They are called "silent destroyers." Able to chomp away undetected at the flooring, walls and even wallpaper of a home, termites cost U.S. homeowners approximately $5 billion in property damage each year, according to the National Pest Management Association (NPMA). This damage is not usually covered by traditional homeowners' insurance.
Looking for the signs of an infestation is most important in the spring. This is when male and female swarmers -- the colony's reconnaissance team -- emerge from their winter spots to scout out a new home for their colony, which can include millions of termites.
These swarmers shed their wings when they've found a suitable home, leaving signs of their presence around windows and doors. But because swarming termites are often mistaken for flying ants, many homeowners don't recognize these wings as the first sign of a termite infestation.
Many people think their homes are safe if they've never experienced infestations before or if their homes previously passed inspections in recent years, but termites are determined, and depending on the species, they can cause serious damage in short order. "Termites are found all throughout the United States and can be rather difficult to control once an infestation takes root," says Jim Fredericks, chief entomologist for the NPMA. "Some species are more aggressive than others, such as conehead termites found in southern states like Florida. They forage over the ground instead of under it, allowing them to spread very quickly if left unchecked."
In recognition of Termite Awareness Week (March 16-22), the NPMA is sharing a list of common termite species that homeowners should look out for this spring:
* Subterranean termites build very distinctive mud tunnels as protection from the open air. They are found in all regions of the United States and can be some of the most destructive because they eat 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
* Formosan termites are found in warmer climates such as Hawaii, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Florida, Tennessee and California. They are an invasive species, originally from China, and are known to be one of the most aggressive species of termites.
* Drywood termites are also usually found in southern states along coastal areas from South Carolina westward to Texas and California. This species is unique in that it doesn't require contact with the soil. Drywood termites form new colonies by gaining access to structures through small holes and infesting attic framings.
* Dampwood termites require humidity and constant contact with water. They are most common along the Pacific coast and neighboring states as well as southern Florida. Because of their specific needs, dampwood termites are usually found in structures with wooden siding or leaky roofs.