Termites build their mud tubes mainly for the same reason that people build subway tunnels – for transportation. But mud tubes also offer shelter and protection for termites against raiding predators. They also help to keep moisture in so that these insects can freely travel to and from, along the tubes.
It’s certainly bad news as the tubes are the most common sign of termite activity nearby. Typically, a newly formed mud tube is dark brown in color. However, if you find light brown colored tubes, they probably haven’t been used for some time, but getting your property checked by a professional exterminator is still a good idea because termite colonies could be active in another area of your home.
The size of termite mud tubes is roughly similar to the diameter of a pencil, with most of them being no more than 12 inches in length.
They are built using small pieces of dirt, mud, or soil, and wood, mixed with their saliva and droppings. Termites plaster this mixture onto a surface and keep adding to it until a completed, connected, and well-covered tube is created.
The tubes can be built either out of a colony to the ground or in exploration. This enables them to travel back and forth, from their colony to the structure they are invading.
Termites are very productive and as long as they have access to food and water, they don’t stop. Basic mud tubes can be completed within a few days but can take many weeks to be strengthened and adapted for regular use. Tubes in pre-existing structures, e.g. rotten wood or concrete cracks, require less mud so they take less time to build.
At first, termites use weak tubes to explore the location. If they find the new area not useful, they seal it off. But if they find valuable resources (like food or water) at the end of the tunnel, termites can then start using these rudimentary tubes to construct and reinforce a tube network. This will then serve to survey the area further. Overall, the complete tunnel network as well as the mound and nest for the entire termite colony usually takes several years to build.
If you notice termite tubes in your house, it’s highly likely that these invasive pests have been active there for at least one year and had enough time to build a nest to grow their colony.
Termite mud tubes are often found in the basement or along the foundation of the house. But most homeowners are not able to recognize these tunnels when they encounter them around the house, they don’t know what they are. The tubes are fragile and can be easily damaged or destroyed for example, by a wild animal passing by. However, in sheltered areas, like the dark corner of a basement, termite tubes might last for a long time after these pests have been exterminated.
On the other hand, some homeowners may believe that they must destroy these tunnels in order to prevent a termite infestation in their house. And this is even more true if the mud tubes never appear again in the same place. Consequently, in many cases, termite infestations will get out of control because these homeowners won’t bother contacting a termite control company.
Regardless of whether the mud tubes are in active use or not, homeowners who discover them should not panic. The best thing you can do, after your initial investigation, is to call in a professional to inspect and diagnose the situation.
So, if you happen to find brown stripes that are most likely termite mud tubes, you can investigate them to check whether live termites are present. However, even if the tunnels appear to be empty, this might still suggest termite presence. If the termite mud tubes are new, you can break one open or knock it down and watch for a few minutes to see if any termites come out.
New, freshly constructed tunnels will be moist and old tubes will look dry, clearly brittle, and are going to break easily when touched.
But don’t knock them all down, don’t break the mud lines completely, as an expert termite exterminator needs to inspect it. If there is a termite infestation, simply destroying the mud tubes will not be enough as it will only slow down the process of their construction.
Call a termite control company, such as Chem Free Exterminating in Orange County, California. We will perform a full inspection of your house to determine exactly what the tunnels are and offer the cost for treatment. Our knowledgeable technicians will be happy to answer all questions you might have and will provide you with more information on the termite mud tube treatment.