Major Signs of pests in the home or how to tell if termites are active?

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Termites are a common problem in all the south-eastern states in the US.

Destroying property for years, this tiny hungry creature is a nightmare to any homeowner.

For this reason, termite infestation signs can be one of the big things to pay attention to when you buy new properties.

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Sometimes the person selling the place can be assuring you that any termite signs you can find are “old infestation”, let’s talk how much you can believe this.

Different termites – different signs

First of all, let me tell you a little bit about the ways termites may enter your house. There are two possibilities, depending on the termite species.

We are going to talk about just two types of termites:

The Drywood termites are all native species in the US. They are very common, but not as destructive as the subterranean termites might be.

Photo 2To build the new nest, all these insects need is a nice piece of untreated wood.

As their colonies can be quite small, especially the young ones, reaching couple of hundreds individuals, they can infest as little as one plank of wood.

So, they are not that complicated to fight, sometimes they can be exterminated completely by simple removal of the infested wood.

Still, if this piece of wood is an essential structural element, you don’t want to find out about the infestation too late.

Learn more about drywood termites: signs of their activity; best methods of treatment: spot treatment and DIY methods; how to get rid of them in furniture?

The subterranean termites are a bit different in their nesting habits. As the names implies, they prefer to nest underground. One thing they absolutely need is the access to moisture and soil.

So, the subterranean termites are entering the house through any wooden pieces in direct contact with the soil. Normally, they are not going much further that the ground floor for this reason.

The problem is that, while the whole nest of drywood termites can be localized in one piece of wood, the nest of subterranean termites can be anywhere in the soil.

So exterminating these termites inside your building, will not completely set you free from the possibility of the subterranean termites reentering the structure.

Learn more about subterranean termites: signs of their activity; best methods of treatment and DIY methods. Eastern subterranean termites and their tunnels and tubes with photo.

Signs of active termites

Though we are recommending you to trust the inspection of the house to a reputable pest control operator, some of the signs of the active termite infestation you might notice yourself.

For this simple inspection you might need:

  • Screwdriver.
  • Plastic zip bag.
  • Flashlight.
  • Lot of time.

So, how to tell if termites are active:

  1. First and very obvious sign of the termite infestation is a swarm.
  2. Photo 3It occurs normally in summer in the early morning.

    Thousands of winged termites are up in the air, doing their mating dance and searching for the new areas for the colony.

    There are several things you can get from the presence of swarm: location, presence of alive swarmers, wings.

    When you witness a swarm, try to determine where it emerges from.

    If the winged insects are coming out from the hole in your house wall – you definitely have a drywood termite’s problem.

    If it goes out from the ground in the garden – there’s a high chance that you are in danger of the subterranean termite infestation.

    Even if you haven’t seen the swarm itself, the tiny winged insects crawling around the house can be a sign of the existing problem.

    Especially if you take into consideration that the winged termites appear only in the fully developed colonies, that are 3-5 years old.

    When you are doing your DIY inspection, pay close attention to the presence of the termite swarmers shed wings. If you find them on the window sills or door sills – there is a chance of drywood termites infestation.

    When the wings are shed close to the water supply points – subterranean termites might be present.

    One thing you should do is to collect the alive or dead termites you found in a zip bag and bringing them for the identification to the pest control specialists. To identify the intruder is very important to choose the right fighting method.

    Important! While you can read a lot about DIY methods for termite extermination there’ll be nothing better than to entrust it to professionals. Call your pest control office to order a proper inspection.
  3. Frass is a very simple sign to notice.
  4. Essentially frass is the droppings of the drywood termite and it’s accumulating at the points the termites are most active. The looks of it resemble a lot to sawdust, but there’re plenty of differences.

    To see most of them you’ll need a magnifying glass. But one simple way to tell one from another is to ask yourself “why there’s sawdust in here” and if you feel confused – most probably you’re looking at the frass.

    One thing you can do is to clean the frass and see if it appears on the same place again. If it does – you certainly have active drywood termites at your house.

  5. Mud tubes are the analogy to frass for the subterranean termites.
  6. Photo 4They use their droppings to build closed sheltered tunnels for their workers.

    They can go even over the concrete, inside or outside the building, usually connecting the soil with the entry point on the wood.

    Once you’ve found the mud tubes you should try to break through them with your screwdriver.

    If the infestation is active, you will see workers (small creamy color termites) inside. Also the tubes that are in use are normally a bit wet inside.

    For the mud tubes you have to look carefully all around. Especially in the basement and crawling areas if there is any wooden construction there.

    All the support posts, joists, supporting piers and wood under porch. Also check if there are any cracks in cement or expansion joints.

  7. Hollow wood is a universal sign for any termite infestation.
  8. You can find it by following termite activity signs:

    1. Tiny holes in the wood.

    2. Buckling paint.

    3. Damaged wood of any kind.

    4. Sunken or rippled wall coverings.

    If you have a suspicion about some areas – tap on them with the dull side of the screwdriver, you will hear if the wood is hollowed.

    Or you can pick it with the sharp edge to see if you can catch a glimpse of tiny alive termites scared by this action.

Here you can learn more information about effective treatment method called tenting (fumigation): dangers for termites, preparing for fumigation and cleaning after, how long does this procedure last?


See the common signs of termite activity on pictures below:

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Can termites be inactive?

Now, what about the inactive termites you ask. First of all, let me tell you that it does sound quite suspicious when somebody sells you a house with the signs of “inactive” termites.

If there were termites and the infestation was exterminated why leaving the damaged wood instead of replacing it right away.

Still there can be some signs that termites are long gone:

  1. Dry and empty mud tubes.
  2. Frass is not reappearing.

Basically that’s it. The professionals will tell you that to state an “active infestation” they need to have a visual confirmation of termites.

But you should understand that the absence of the workers in one mud tube does not mean that they are not using another one, and the absence of frass can mean absolutely nothing.

One thing which can help you a bit is an Infrared Thermal Imaging. A qualified Thermographer can determine the presence of the potential colony behind the wall coverings etc.

Photo 11The thing is that while being a non-destructive test method itself, for the confirmation of the possible colony presence you will still need to break through the wood.

But if you just want to confirm the place is surely termite-free, this technique might work.

Useful articles

If you interested in more information of termites we recommend you to read the following articles:

Helpful video

The example of termite activity in a stump nearby the house which is shown in the video below will help you o better understand how to know if termites are active:


So, my recommendation is keep a very suspicious mind when it comes to “inactive” termites. The best you can do in this situation is to order a complete inspection from a professional exterminator if you have any doubts.

And if it appears to be clean of pests by now – use all needed preventive methods to avoid the termites reentering your property.

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