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If you've been noticing conspicuous tube-shaped shelters popping up on the exterior of your home, then you might be dealing with a pesky case of termites. These wood-eating insects often leave conspicuous proof of their presence around residences. Shelter tubes are often a sign of an infestation, so don't ignore them.
Purpose of Tube Shelters
Termites build these noticeable tube structures, similar in girth to a pencil, as a means of getting from their underground residences to their food—wood. Rotting, damp wood is a meal to these social creatures. Termites are unable to survive extended exposure to the air, so they use their tubes to keep themselves damp too. Not only do these tube shelters provide termites with comfortable environments, they also often shield them from possible predators, specifically fellow insects such as ants.
As far as locations for tube shelters go, termites are fond of outdoor walls. They also frequently make their tube shelters in cramped basements. Other common locales for termite tube shelters are joists and sills. Although it's rare, a severe infestation can sometimes lead to tube shelters on indoor walls too. Termites aren't choosy about the surfaces over which they place their tubes, whether brick or concrete.
Termites use a variety of components to build their tube shelters. These are soil, wood, miscellaneous debris, stool matter and gooey saliva. They're often referred to as mud tubes because of the soil factor. The saliva is essential for keeping all the ingredients securely in place.
Tubes in Use
You may find abandoned tube shelters as well. These are crumbly in texture, while those in use are slightly wet. Since abandoned tubes are so weak, they often shatter and provide evidence in the form of a lingering outline. If a tube shelter is still occupied, cracking it up into fragments should reveal a bunch of tiny off-white insects without wings. If the tube contains no termites, the home may still be infested: it's possible the termites have moved on to different tubes.
- Texas A&M AgriLIFE Extension: Subterranean Termites
- University of Kentucky Entomology: Termite Control
- LSU AgCenter: Shelter Tubes
- The Ohio State University Bulletin: Biology of Subterranean Termites in the Eastern United States
- NSW Department of Primary Industries: Termites in New South Wales [PDF]
- NC State University Cooperative Extension: Biology and Control of Subterranean Termites
- Jupiterimages /Polka Dot/Getty Images