A tiny trail of red dirt arcing above my laundry bench was the subtle hint that the mighty Coptotermes acinaciformis, commonly known as the termite, was busy gnawing away inside our house. A call to Advantage Pest Control followed and the thorough inspection conducted revealed far more than the eye could see!
Below the laundry bench in question, termites were having a right old party. They’d entered through the old laundry drain — attracted by the moisture — and travelled up via the tasty chipboard and eaten away the entire underside of the bench, with barely a sign outside. The dirt I could see above was an exploratory tube – one that termites use to search for food or migrate. Lucky too, otherwise I wouldn’t have noticed.
There are around 360 species of termites in Australia, but only a small number are of ‘ economic significance’ meaning they damage our houses, furniture and even crops. It’s important to note that the majority of termites are actually of great benefit to our natural ecosystems – they recycle dead and rotten timber and other plant matter. They are also a source of food to many animals, including mammals such as bats, numbats and echidnas as well as birds, lizards and other insects.
After generously spraying the infested site with ordinary fly spray (not recommended as a stand- alone treatment as the termites back in the nest just reappear) Luke, my trusty termite specialist, dragged the defunct cabinet outside and proceeded to locate the source of the problem – the original nests.
Luke discovered 3 nests in the 50 metre ‘danger zone’ around our house. Surprising to me, as I had dismissed the ones I had noticed as ordinary bark decay or ants nests. They appeared from the outside as crumbly dirt at the bases of several large gum trees surrounding the house. While termites are potentially problematic to all residential properties, rural houses are particularly at risk. “I’ve seen leads thicker than my arm on country properties,” says Luke, “Something the city guys would never see.”
It’s the price we pay for living amongst beautiful bush and magnificent trees. But as Luke explained there are other factors at play as well – and the main one is moisture.
“Termites are active in high humidity, and timber above 18% humidity is at risk of attracting termite activity.”
While we can’t control the air temperature, there are things around the property that can be done to minimise risk, and at our place Luke pointed out the following…
– A leaking tap from an air conditioning unit causing water to pool next to the timber posts holding up our deck.
– Old newspapers stacked against the wall (NVN’s no doubt!).
– Piles of firewood in the garage waiting for next winter and loose timber around the house yard and in the kids cubby.
“Timber in direct contact with the ground absorbs moisture from the surrounding soil and the rotting process begins. Rotting timber gives off a gas that permeates through the soil, alerting termites to a food source close by. All usable timber and firewood must be stored clear of the ground by at least 600mm to reduce the chance of termite attack,” he said.
Luke treated the main nest in a tree close to the house with a pressure-injected liquid Fipronil based non-repellent take-back termiticide.
He recommended this product as it can control whole termite populations faster than any other treatment, but it is relatively slow-acting in individual termites. This means termites have ample time before dying to spread the termiticide to their nest, and the entire colony.
Termites are able to detect the other chemicals (like farm insecticides) in the soil and just stay away from the area. That means the termites remain active and unaffected, still exploring the area and potentially looking for ways into your home.
Recent changes to the Building Code of Australia (BCA) have also affected the ways in which termites are managed in Australian homes. The 2014 change to AS 3660.1 requires that for concealed and inaccessible areas, that a chemical system be replenishable via a reticulation system providing an even and continuous distribution of chemical into the soil.
This means that a chemical hand spray treatment will no longer be allowed unless a reticulation system is used to allow for recharging the chemical at a later date. Check with your Pest Control advisor when your property is inspected.
There are two main Pest control companies operating in the Northern Valleys region – Chittering Pest and Weed and Advantage Pest Control. Both are able to offer a comprehensive analysis and treatment plans, so be sure to give them a call if you suspect any unwanted termite munching at your place. Best to act sooner rather than later too – as I discovered sometimes the signs are quite well disguised.