Charleston-area homeowners beware—termites are some of the worst pests you can have in your home, and the Charleston, Summerville, and Mount Pleasant areas have the misfortune of having not just native subterranean termites but the introduced Formosan subterranean termite as well.  And, on top of that, is a hot spot for drywood termites too!  It’s estimated that termites cause over five billion dollars worth of damage to homes annually, so it’s critical that homeowners stay vigilant against these pests, particularly in a warm climate like Charleston’s. To put up a fight against these pests you need to be prepared, which is why we’re highlighting exactly what makes termites so destructive, which types you’re most likely to find in Charleston, and how you can take the necessary steps to make sure they stay away for good. 

Charleston Termite Types

There are three types of termites local to the Lowcountry, including subterranean termites, drywood termites, and the especially destructive Formosan subterranean termites. To best prevent and treat termite damage, it’s essential to know exactly which type you’re dealing with.

Subterranean

The most common species of termite you’ll find in and around the Charleston area is the subterranean termite, which eats anything made of cellulose, including wood. These termites live under the soil and in above-ground tunnels known as mud tubes. They most commonly swarm (reproduce) between February and April. After they swarm from the colony, they look to create a new colony near a food source, typically a wood product like a rotten log or tree stump. Subterranean termites can be identified by their wings, as they are often mistaken for flying ants. In color, they can be dark brown or cream-colored depending on their rank and order within the colony. In the home, they are commonly found near windows or light fixtures since they are drawn to light just like moths. Since they live in the soil in search of food, the warm climate of the Lowcountry is ideal for subterranean termites.

Drywood

These termites are especially likely to make themselves at home in your home since they commonly feast on furniture, hardwood flooring, fences, and other wooden structures in and around the home. They’re typical in coastal areas of the United States like South Carolina. Unlike subterranean termites, drywood termites don’t live in the soil or mud tubes and don’t leave traces of dirt in their damage. As their name suggests, drywood termites are found in dry wood rather than wet or damp wood and don’t need soil to survive, meaning they can live for extended periods in dry areas. They typically swarm in the spring at nighttime. They can range in colors, from yellowish-brown to pale brown, and sometimes dark brown. While their colonies may be smaller than those of subterranean termites, drywood termites do require special treatment to eradicate them.

Formosan Subterranean

If you’re living in the greater Charleston area, there is perhaps no mightier foe than the Formosan subterranean termite. What makes these termites in Charleston so pesky? Each insect may not be able to damage as much wood as one subterranean termite, but the colonies of Formosan termites are astronomically larger (compare several million Formosan termites in a colony to several hundred thousand subterranean termites in a colony.) A colony of Formosan termites can create more damage in a smaller period of time. This makes it critical to stay vigilant against these termites in particular. Formosan subterranean termites swarm from April to July during humid evenings, which are typical of South Carolina. They are yellowish-brown with wings wrapped in tiny hairs.

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Signs & Damage of Termites

To prevent a termite colony from moving in and wreaking havoc, it’s important to know the signs and stay vigilant.

Mud Tubes

Eastern subterranean and Formosan subterranean termites can live in mud tubes, so these are a clear indication you may have termites. Mud tubes are a means for termites to travel from the mud to their food sources. Mud tubes are usually pencil-sized and may be found on foundation walls, joists, or even ceilings. You may also be able to spot them outside your house along food sources like a shed or a tree, or where the ground meets your house.

Swarming and Shed Wings

Swarmers are reproductive termites that can be seen flying around during swarms (or reproductive periods). Seeing swarmers would be a good indication you have a possible infestation. Other signs include discarded wings, typically near windows, doors, or other home-access points.

Blistered or Hollow Wood and Sagging Floors

Because wood is a termite’s food source, any evidence of weak or unstable wood or timber in your home is a signal that you have a termite problem. Floors that buckle or sag or wooden areas that sound hollow when you knock are signs that these pests are eating away at wood in your home. Some visual cues that termites are eating your wood include a honeycomb appearance with layered hollow sections and traces of mud and partially digested wood. It’s important to keep in mind that termites will eat anything containing cellulose, including cardboard and wood paneling, so keep an eye on these areas as well.

Cracked Paint

One sign that termites are eating wood is cracked paint, which can indicate that the wood beneath is being distorted.

Maze-Like Tunnels

As termites eat wood, particularly in furniture, they can create all kinds of tunnels. Pay particular attention to wooden walls and antique furniture.

Fecal Droppings

Drywood termites like to keep the tunnels where they eat their food tidy, so they remove their excrement as they tunnel and eat. This leads to pellets of termite droppings, which can look like sawdust or coffee grounds, to sometimes collect near an infestation.

How to Prevent Termites

To protect your home from a termite infestation, take these steps and continue to look for the signs:

  • Remove rotting wood and old tree stumps.
  • Keep piles of wood far from your home and mulch away from the foundation.
  • Maintain and repair leaky faucets or pipes in your home.
  • Remove any instance of wood to soil contact.
  • Seal exterior cracks off from your home.
  • Do not allow bushes or landscaping within two feet of the edge of your home. 
  • Unblock drainage systems and route them away from your house. 
  • Monitor for signs of termites and schedule an annual inspection.

How to Get Rid of Termites in Charleston, SC

If you’ve spotted signs of a termite infestation in your home, the time to act is now. Unlike quick fixes that won’t remove a termite colony completely, Terminix professionals are experts in identifying the type of infestation you have and will know how to act quickly to eradicate termites from your home and prevent further damage.

Learn more about termite prevention and removal in Charleston, South Carolina