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Termites are the most economically damaging pests in the United States, as they cause billions of dollars in property destruction each year in the country. Termites are divided into three groups known as subterranean, drywood and dampwood termites. Subterranean termites are the most destructive of the three, and several species of this variety can be found in the US. Massachusetts is home to the most destructive termite species in the country, the eastern subterranean termite. Unlike drywood and dampwood termite species that only colonize both natural and finished above ground wood sources, subterranean termite colonies are located below ground where workers forage by tunneling through soil. In order for termites to infest indoor structural wood, they must build “mud tubes” that connect the ground soil to structural wood located behind the foundation of homes. Finding vertical and pencil-thin mud tubes along a home’s foundation indicates that termites either are or were present in a home, but how can homeowner tell if mud tubes are active or abandoned?

Since mud tubes are rather conspicuous, most homeowners tend to notice them shortly after they are constructed by termites. However, new homeowners may miss a mud tube presence on their home’s foundation that was there before the home was purchased, and many homeowners may assume that mud tubes are nothing more than liquified mud that hardened as it dripped down a foundation. In fact, one study found that only 19 percent of homeowners could accurately identify mud tubes and knew about their significance. Even when mud tubes are accurately identified along a home’s foundation, residents are often at a loss when it comes to determining if the tubes indicate an existing infestation or were abandoned by termites in the past. Whenever mud tubes are noticed on a home, a pest control professional should be contacted for an inspection, but there is one easy way to tell if mud tubes are active or abandoned. If a homeowner breaks a mud tube and sees numerous worker and soldier termites come flooding out, then an infestation is active. If a mud tube is broken, but termites are nowhere to be found, then it can usually be safely assumed that the mud tubes are old and inactive. If, by chance, a home is infested, but no termites can be seen exiting a broken mud tube, a homeowner can wait a few days before checking to see if the mud tube has been repaired. If the mud tube has been repaired, then a home is obviously infested and should be treated by a pest control professional as soon as possible.

Have you ever broken a termite mud tube open? If so, did termites exit the tube?