Its that time of year when the snowbirds return to Mexico to escape the cold winter back home. For many, the next few weeks will be time to get their homes ready for the high season. One of the most essential things on your to-do list should be to do a stem-to-stern inspection of your home for termites.
Termites are one of the most destructive creatures on earth. Some of these small insects, called silent destroyers, eat the cellulose in wood, making tunnels in wood framing, structures, furniture, and floors. Termites live in colonies whose sizes can range from several hundred to several millions of insects.
Infestations of termites can be very difficult and costly to eradicate. It is estimated that termites cause over US$5 billion in damage annually. That is why it is critical to catch them early.
Termites are found on almost all continents on earth except for Antarctica. Some estimates put the number of different termite species at over 3000. Each species falls into one of three ecological groups – subterranean, dry wood and damp wood.
Depending on the species, each colony can include one or more queen, kings, workers, swarmers, immature termites, soldiers, nymphs and reproductives. In our homes in Mexico, drywood termites are the ones to check your home for. Once or twice per year, as the season gets warm and generally before heavy rain, the swarmers fly from the existing colony with the intent of starting a new colony. Although the swarmers cannot fly far on their own, with breezes, they are able to travel further distances.
Drywood termites in Mexico are the size of larger ants, and when in migrating stage, have wings. Each termite has four wings that are silver in color. Once they land, they discard their wings and crawl around looking for the best location to mate. That means finding an area with a reliable food source such as untreated softwoods and particle board, paper, plastic, cardboard, and even insulation around pipes. Termites will also eat the paper off the back of drywall.
Once they have found their home, the queen produces eggs to populate the new colony. A queen can create thousands of eggs per day. To enable the nest to grow, the worker termites feed the other members of the colony with substances derived from the digestion of the food source, either from the mouth or anus (yuk!)
Unfortunately, we also inadvertently contribute to potential termite infestations in our homes in Mexico. Many termites are transported inside of wood furniture, crates, and packaging.
That is why it is so important to purchase furniture made from treated materials and to quickly dispose of any packaging materials such as cardboard, plastic or crates. Even the cardboard boxes at your local grocery store may have termites.
Next week: More on how to identify and eliminate termites
Sheryl Novak is an expat from Canada who has owned a home in Mexico for over 10 years. She is the owner of SOLutions Mexico, an online furniture store and an expert on sourcing all styles of furniture, for all budgets, in Mexico.