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How can copper keep termites at bay?

The Termite Scourge

Termites live in colonies that can number in the hundreds of thousands. They form castes, such as soldiers, workers and reproductives, which have specialized jobs. When a termite group or colony becomes large and well-established, special young, winged termites fly off in spring to start a new colony. This swarm of winged termites can reproduce when they find a suitable location and are sometimes the first sign a homeowner has that there are termites in the vicinity. It takes a number of years for a colony to become large enough to start producing reproductives.

From their nest, subterranean termites create a complex network of tunnels that can spread underground hundreds of feet in any direction. They build tunnels looking for sources of food, typically wood and roots, and when they find a good food source, like your house or garage, they set up shop and start eating.

Even though they can be tough to spot, especially at first, termites do leave signs of their presence. If you think there may be termites in the neighborhood, spring is a great time to keep an eye out. Swarming termites are attracted to light, so check around the exterior lights and windows of your home for discarded wings or dead termites. Reproductives shed their wings when they find new homes. Termite wings are long and slender and can be distinguished from those of flying ants by their size. A termite's wings are longer than its body, while a flying ant's wings are about the same length as its body. Examining any cobwebs on your property for long, slender termite wings is another good way to check for signs that termites are nearby. If you see shed wings inside your home, it's time to call a termite professional.

Another way to identify the presence of termites is to look for stalactites made of dried mud or narrow, long tubes made of mud between your beams or along your foundation. Termites protect themselves from predation by ants and from the elements by building above-ground tunnel shelters to get from place to place when they can't travel underground. These tunnels are between a 1/4 of an inch to an inch wide (6.35 to 25.4 mm) and can be an indication that you have termites. A good way find out if the insects are actively feeding in or near your home is to demolish part of a suspected tunnel and see if they rebuild it [source: Jones].

In the next section, we'll take a look at how copper's bug-busting properties were discovered and how it works to control pests.