Most species of termites are a positive menace in and around human habitation, impacting millions of people over the globe and causing many tens of millions (in US dollar terms) in damages every year.
In order to save their property, homeowners must focus on both prevention and cure.
If you find out about a termite infestation too late, there may not be much recourse beyond calling an exterminator.
But before that stage, some sensible precautions are called for. In that vein, it’s important to know what termites can bite through.
While its well known that termites love to gnaw on wood, the potential for damage does not always stop there. Termites have also been known to go through retaining walls and many other barriers.
This raises the question of whether termites can eat concrete. As we will see, the answer is “no”, strictly speaking. But they can bite their way through various means to get behind a concrete wall.
Eating and Biting – Not the Same Thing
To start, we need to distinguish between “eating” and “biting through”. They are not the same for any animal or insect, ditto for termites.
Eat equals Nutrition Gain
To eat signifies more than just chewing and swallowing. The act of eating also entails gaining nutritional value to have enough energy to get through the day.
A termite does have work to be done throughout the day to survive. This would require the termite to eat a nutritious meal that will be used to generate energy – which in turn allows the insect to continue building a safe home and grow the community.
This means that the termite must ingest the food it eats and then break it down through digestion for energy.
Most termites’ bodies need a substance called cellulose to generate energy. Cellulose is found in most things vegetative such as paper, wood, cotton, grass, leaves, among others.
When the termite eats wood, it travels to the stomach where there are microorganisms called protozoa. The protozoa then eat the wood and turn it into a substance the termite is then able to digest.
Once this is digested, energy is released for the use of the termite.
In another article, we have discussed how the termites who can digest cellulose are not born with their intestinal protozoa but gain them through feeding at a very early age.
If the protozoa are wiped out, the termites will lose the ability to digest cellulose and will perish if they continue to eat wood.
Bite equals Breaking Up but Not Necessarily Nutrition
To bite is to be able to break up a substance, which could lead to swallowing and ingesting, but does not have to. In this instance, a termite can bite without swallowing for nutrition.
The termite has one of the most powerful bites in the world. The strength of a termite’s bite can exert up to 125,000 times the power of an average human bite.
While this is certainly sufficient to gnaw through and eat wood, other materials are just as hard as wood that these insects can bite through even if they do not gain nutrition from them.
Why would they bother? Usually, this happens when they are searching for a nesting spot and/or looking for food behind the barrier that they bite through.
There are, however, some materials that the termites cannot bite through.
Concrete and Other Termite Kryptonite
Termites cannot bite through or eat metals, concrete, brick, mortar, or grout. Not only do such materials not contain cellulose, but they are also too hard for these insects to bite through.
However, that may not stop termites from trying to get beyond a barrier made from any of these materials if they believe that goodies lie beyond.
As a prime example, if there is some untreated or unpainted wood underneath or behind a metal, concrete or brick surface, termites will do their best to get to it.
To do so, they will look for cracks, holes, or soft joining material in the barriers they can’t bite through. Here are some ways that termites tend to get through:
- Two termites can literally fit on the head of a matchstick, so even a teeny tiny opening (a split that shows up as walls expand or contract with age and climate conditions) can be sufficient to let termites through.
- They don’t have a problem moving pebbles or other rubble mixed up in the cement cracks to get to their meal.
- Termites can also bite through softer joining materials that were often used to construct walls in older houses. Examples could be certain types of drywall; lime mortar used to lay bricks in years past, or thin plastic linings that were sometimes used to line the heavier and thicker material.
Given the above, it is important to be sure that any cracks in cement, in between bricks, or anywhere else in any seals around the home. If you have an older home, be extra cautious.
While you may not know how your walls were constructed, the chances of softer material being present alongside hard bricks or concrete are that much higher.
Caution and Vigilance are Key
One of the biggest problems with a termite colony being able to bite through concrete, mortar, bricks etc. is that you will not be able to spot them.
If termites attack your furniture, for example, you will spot the damage.
If, however, the damage is happening to the infrastructure hidden behind a solid-looking brick wall, you may not know what’s going on till its too late.
A termite colony only needs about 10-15 years to eat through the average sized home, and they do not do it by eating all the wood away.
Termites burrow through the wood leaving holes throughout, which over time weakens and eventually collapses, causing the damage.
It is quite common for homeowners not to be aware of the damage until the termites have been around for at least three to four years, depending on the size of the colony.
If the first signs of an infestation are only detected when a fully mature colony is present (through spotting a swarm indoors, for example), you are in a far worse state – since that process usually takes six to eight years.
By that point, things could well be on the way to falling apart.
How Does a Colony Form?
A colony of termites is a frightening thought, thousands of silent insects eating away underneath the floorboards as one goes about their day. How does it begin and how fast does it grow?
A colony typically starts when the larvae have matured enough to mate, making them “nymphs”. Once this happens, the nymph will venture off to find other nymphs to begin a new colony.
Some may set off by foot, but it’s quite common to find winged queens and kings that fly out in search of new nests.
Termites can also begin a new colony if there has been a natural disaster, separating them from their home.
They will find another colony or begin a new colony with other termites. If a smaller colony does not have a queen to follow, one will step in until there is one.
It can take up to six or seven years to create a colony of a million termites. That is when you have a full-scale infestation. The clock to destruction will be ticking till you spot the signs and take action.
How To Detect an Infestation
Depending on the type of termite, the signs will differ. As an example, look at what two types of termites will leave as clues if they are living in your home rent-free:
- Drywood Termites: They live in the wood they feed on and will also leave piles of feces, resembling pellets, where they have nested or eaten. Drywood termites can also make walls and floors sag appearing as water damage. If they have swarmed, the winged Drywood termites will shed their wings in piles, resembling fish scales.
- Subterranean Termites: These guys live underground searching for food, which is why they are typically found around the unprotected foundation underneath. They can be spotted through the cylindrical tunnels, made of mud, saliva, and their excrement, that they tend to leave around the foundations of your home.
Other Ways to Know of an Infestation
Since it can take years to notice termite damage, it’s important to notice some of the smaller signs that may show – this is the only way to detect an infestation sooner.
These signs can seem relatively insignificant. Often, people may associate them with the normal signs that are found around an aging home.
Be very careful, though, and dig a bit deeper. These signs could well signal a termite infestation.
- Bubbling or uneven paint: This is not a surefire way to know if there are termites in the home, but it’s worth paying attention to. Termite damage can lead to bubbling and uneven paint. This can happen when termites eat away at the wood to the extent that the paint has nothing left to hold on to. A more common situation is when termites adjust the humidity they need to survive. They burrow just beneath the surface to control the amount of moisture in the wood. This, in turn, causes the paint to bubble.
- A hollow sound from knocking on wood: Typical of a subterranean termite attack, the hollowness is caused by the termites tunneling through the structure to eat and nest.
- Tiny holes in drywall, or drywall that is discolored or sagging: While termites will not eat drywall, it is soft enough for them to bite through if there is untreated wood on the other side for them to feed on.
- Squeaky floorboards: If the floorboards have begun to squeak, there is a chance the wood underneath has also been eaten through. This of course means that the structure is already damaged.
- Piles of sawdust: These piles could be feces close to a termite nest. They could also resemble small pellets.
- Swarms: Every year a new generation of winged termites are born in a matured nest. Their purpose is to go off and begin a new colony, these are called swarmers. They are attracted to sources of light, so you will see them either inside doors and windows trying to get out, or on the outside trying to get in. Another sign of swarmers is listed next.
- Small fish scales near windows and in corners: This can also happen either indoors or outdoors. Swarmers shed their wings once they reach their destination. If the wings are outside, there could be a chance the termite is trying to get in for a chance to form a colony inside your home, as well as a long-lasting meal. If the wings are inside, there is already a mature colony that has created the next generation of termites.
Some of these signs can possibly arise from other problems, from water leaks to simple decay. But the termite infestation possibility must be considered.
Therefore, it is always important to get the opinions of a trained professional to ease any fears and get to the root of the problem.
How to Prevent an Infestation
It is important to know the ways one can prevent termites before they become a problem. Fortunately, there have been proper resources made to do just that. Here are some ways to prevent termites from causing damage to the home:
- Use treated and hard woods: Pressured-treated woods were made with termites in mind. These are treated with chemicals that deter the termites from making a meal out of the wood. Hardwoods are good because termites have a harder time biting through them.
- Store firewood and other woods away from the foundation: Store any type of untreated wood away from the home, since they represent a natural food source.
- Keep moisture low: As subterranean termites live underground; they heavily rely on moisture to survive. Making sure that all water from the gutters drain properly and keeping leaks in check can help deter a termite from hanging around.
- Talk to a professional: No matter what, it can ultimately be the most beneficial to have a trained eye take a look around and share any details that could help protect your home. They also have ways to treat the home to deter termites as well as be able to see any weak points that can invite termites in.
Alright, that’s it for this article, here are a few hand-selected articles that you might also find interesting reads:How To Spot and Prevent Termites from Causing Wood Damage
Why Do Termites Eat Wood? Facts And Figures
Are termites hard to get rid of? Yes! But These Tips Can Help
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