Termites, also known as white ants, live in colonies, just like bees, wasps and ants. They have very powerful mandibles capable of attacking even the hardest wood and materials such as PVC. Termites can cause enormous damage to the structure of a house. In this dossier, you'll find a range of answers and natural products to help you combat this insect.
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Order : Isoptera
Family : Rhinotermitidae, Kalotermitidae
Size : 2 to 8 mm
Location : all woods
Period : all year round
Termites are wood-eating insects. They break down wood and any other material containing cellulose, which forms the basis of their diet (paper, cardboard, certain fabrics, etc.).
There are 3 species that can be found in our climate :
the lucifuge termite (Reticulitermes lucifugus), the saintonge termite (R. santonensis) and the yellow-necked termite (Kalotermes flavicollis).
What you need to know about termites
Originally from tropical countries, termites can only live in their natural state in warm regions. Living in colonies of several thousand individuals, the first two species have their nests in the ground. The yellow-necked termite, on the other hand, makes its home in dry, dead wood. Their natural habitat is the forest, where they play an active role in recycling dead plant matter. As a result, the "pest" status they are often given only applies in the case of infestations of man-made structures (buildings, landscaping, etc.).
Preferring to feed on slightly damp wood, the termite can also feed on paper, cardboard and, if in short supply, on living trees. Its colour is not well defined. In fact, as its integuments are transparent, it can take on the colour of the wood it has eaten.
This insect attacks all types of softwood and hardwood. It makes galleries, always respecting the outer surface of the wood, which can be reduced to the thickness of a sheet of paper.
This insect avoids light. It does not move around in the open air, but in galleries dug in the ground or in the wood, or in galleries that it makes itself from a mixture of earth, saliva and excrement.
These galleries are always free of wormholes to allow intense circulation. Their walls are covered with an earthy coating.
The colony does not settle directly in the wood of the dwelling, but in the ground, and reaches the wood of the buildings via galleries.
Termites are social insects, forming colonies organised into castes. Workers, soldiers, nymphs, reproductives and larvae live together and interact constantly via complex and elaborate modes of communication (vibrations, chemical signals, food exchanges, etc.).
The worker caste represents the vast majority of the colony (on average 90-95% of individuals in the case of subterranean termites found in mainland France). It is the workers who cause damage to wood, whether stored damp on the ground or dry and ready for use.
Signs of termite presence or activity
- Earthen cords and earthy concretions : the aerial galleries built by termites on the surface of items unsuitable for consumption (running along facades or the trunks of living trees) are the most obvious external signs of infestation by subterranean termites;
- Wings scattered on the ground (signs of swarming);
- Damage : wood with a laminated appearance, with earthy, "masonry" galleries;
- Living termites : winged individuals emerging from stumps, workers spotted after removing a piece of wood stored on the ground, etc.
Everyone is in a position to carry out a minimum level of surveillance of the building they occupy (or to have it carried out), by regularly inspecting, both inside and out, the features and locations that are conducive to the establishment and development of a termite colony.
The damage termites can cause
Living trees are not always safe from attack, and termites can sometimes overcome the weakened natural defences of trees that have been weakened by pollution or other pests (mites, caterpillars, defoliating insects, etc). Almost all species in mainland France are susceptible to termite attack, which damages all parts of the wood (sapwood and heartwood). Termite activity is a major cause of damage in infested areas. In extreme cases, the loss of material as a result of termite colonisation of wood can rapidly render it incapable of fulfilling its function, and cause parts of structures to break.
1 - As a preventive measure
- Check all the wood and furniture you bring home (working insects can re-form a colony).
- Do not leave any wood, paper or cardboard in the vicinity of your home that could provide food for termites.
- Only use treated wood in construction.
- Depending on your department and your obligations: the obligation to protect wood and the soil/building interface
For full diagnosis and treatment methods, please read our special report on the subject.
2 - Curative treatment
Under current regulations, products used to treat wood against wood-eating insects, whether preventive or curative, must contain at least one active ingredient in biocidal class TP8.
The problem is that there are currently no authorised natural active ingredients in this class.
Most wood treatment products contain cypermethrin with a solvent (white spirit, citrus, water, etc.). Whether they have an odour or not, these treatment products containing components of petroleum origin are not very healthy in a place where we live!
But termites are insects. And to kill an insect, you use an insecticide that must be in class TP18.
So you can use a natural insecticide to kill termites. This insecticide will have no wood protection function, unlike wood treatment products. But it will get rid of the termites.
Although it may seem obvious, don't try to treat waxed, painted or varnished wood. To be effective, the treatment must be applied to untreated wood.
The solution, which is a little time-consuming but effective in killing termites, is to get the insecticide into the holes made by the insects (syringe, spray, sponge, mop).
There are 3 products you can use to do this :
1 - Our 4J All Insects insecticide (4J at 5%). This 500ml spray bottle will treat about 5 m2. For larger areas, use the same product in its concentrated form and dilute to 5% yourself. Note that this product, based on plant pyrethrum, has a short remanence. It will therefore be effective for rapid curative action, but not for long-term curative action. As soon as the insect comes into contact with the 4J product, it will die instantly (pyrethrum's neurotoxic effect). The difficulty remains in reaching these insects, which often take refuge in the heart of the wood or even in inaccessible places (under a floor, for example). The best results will be obtained by injecting it (using a small syringe) into the largest holes left by the insect.
2 - Margosa extract. Margosa's main property is to render all treated surfaces unfit for insect consumption, so the insects either have to leave the treated area in search of food, or starve to death. Thanks to its broad spectrum and long duration of action, Margosa is effective in most infested areas. It can be applied by spraying or injection. Margosa blocks the development of larvae, disrupts the search for food and sterilises adult insects. The treatment should be carried out by spraying the wood or injecting it directly into the holes at a concentration of 2% for preventive use and 4% for curative use.
3 - Diatomaceous earth spray. If the holes (galleries) left by the insect in the wood are large enough (over 2 mm), diatomaceous earth spray can be used. Thanks to its applicator tube, you can apply the diatomaceous earth to each hole and inject it as deeply as possible. Thanks to the specific surface area of its grains and its siliceous skeleton, diatomaceous earth is formidable in the fight against crawling insects :
a - Ingestion of the silica particles (which are very sharp) by insects causes lesions in their digestive tract.
b - The fineness and hardness of the silica particles collected by the insect's bristles cause lesions on its limbs or carapace. This causes the insect to lose body fluids, leading to death from dehydration after a few days. The absorbent properties of diatomaceous earth (up to 150% of its weight) encourage this process.
The products you need to combat termites
N.B.: Obviously, if the termite infestation is severe and your wood has been under heavy attack for years, you'll need to call in specialist, approved companies to carry out a full diagnosis and come up with appropriate solutions.
Frequently asked questions about termites
A: I don't think it's likely that you'd have termites in a wooden pestle. In fact, these insects make their "nests" in the ground, but it could very well be termite beetles, capricorn beetles, etc. Put your pestle in the freezer for a few days and the insects will die.
A: The simplest and most effective way is to find the termite mound and destroy it. It's possible that it's in the ground at the foot of the tree.
A: Our 4J insecticide can be used to treat furniture, but it's completely different from natural xylophene, which is not a synthetic product, is a water solvent, not a petroleum distillate, and is non-neurotoxic. Treating by capillary action is one solution, but I'm not sure that the product can treat the entire piece of furniture, or else it will take a long time.
A: The pyrethrum-based formulation of 4J insecticide will be effective as a direct curative treatment on insects. However, the product will degrade fairly quickly due to the action of UV rays and heat. Margosa, on the other hand, works more slowly but over a much longer period. It is therefore the better of the 2 products for outdoor use.
A: When spraying on wood, you can use a concentration of 3%. When injecting, a concentration of 5% is preferable.
A: Preventive treatment is always preferable to curative treatment. Preventive treatment involves spraying or brushing, but curative treatment involves injections. But be careful not to treat only visible beams, as insects can also settle in beams that are not visible. If you live indoors, use products that are preferably organic to avoid poisoning.