Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A little Frassled

Since I have a free moment this morning, I figured I'd write about one of our earlier house challenges that at first was a mystery but ended up being quite educational.

A week or so after moving in, we decided to have lunch outside on our patio. When we went to sit down, though, we noticed a small amount of what looked like grains of sand or fine pebbles.  We were both rather confused having never seen this before, and figured maybe it was just something that had blown on to the patio.  Although strangely it was mostly on top of our patio table and chairs. We swept it up and went on with our lunch, not thinking too much about it.

Fast forward a week, same story with a little bit more of this sand/dust/whatever.  Now I'm becoming concerned. The house had undergone spot treatments for termites before we bought it and we hadn't seen any evidence of wood damage.  I got up on our ladder and try as I might, could find no holes in the beams above us.  I really could not find another explanation for this "stuff" so started searching the web about termites and found this...
Close-up
Not our house, but similar
Hey...that's it! That's exactly what we have.  These were droppings from drywood termites, known as Frass. And according to Termites101.org, this is definitely consistent with a drywood termite infestation. Unlike subterranean or dampwood termites, drywood termites don't need to be near the ground to get moisture.  In fact, the reason their frass is so geometrically shaped is that they are experts at extracting every last drop of moisture from their droppings.
Thankfully it wasn't subterranean or Formosan termites, as these guys are much harder to get rid of, much more destructive and frequently seen in southern California.  Drywood termites (right) tend to have smaller colonies and cause slower, less severe damage than other types.

So we called the exterminator the seller had used for a retreatment (they guaranteed the service for a full year, thank goodness we insisted on getting the full order form including guarantee information!) and had them drop by to take a look.  Talking with the exterminator, it seems that drywood termites are unusual in that while subterranean termites will just invade huge areas, and often whole house treatment is needed, drywood termites prefer to work on one piece of wood at a time.  He had treated many houses, where one timber was fully infested, directly adjoining pieces were untouched.  Either way, he drilled a few holes into the suspect beam (we finally did find their tiny poop chute, "kick hole" is the proper term) and foamed them.

This is what the inside of drywood termite infested wood looks like.  Pretty amazing. Let's hope that's not what the inside of our patio beams look like!

If you want to learn way more than I can put here about termites (granted this paper focuses on Southeastern US species), here's a paper from Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities.

So far, no more frass anywhere... but we'll keep our fingers crossed...or better yet...knock on wood!

8 comments:

Penny said...

And where were you and all that expertise when Grandma's house was fumigated in June? We could have shown you some good damage, but I didn't get such good photos of their poops!

Juan Chaparro said...

well neither of those pics were mine. I think I was just too concerned with getting the termite poop off our patio table/chairs. Although according to Wikipedia, frass is a very good fertilizer with high nitrogen content and beneficial micro-organisms. It's the pro-biotic yogurt of the insect/plant world!

Xaparro said...

Frassled, knock on wood, pro-biotic yougurt... Gee, Juan, you should write a book!

Juan Chaparro said...

well hopefully this blog will improve my writing skills. It has always frustrated me that I am not a better writer (maybe a complex caused by the closed-minded, incompetent and self-serving English faculty at Gateway!)

Luis F. Chaparro said...

I should send you my collection of NY-Times articles on writing... they are more to the point of where sentences come from, and should we use semicolons or not. Interesting ways of looking at grammar.

Juan Chaparro said...

Oh my goodness! Papi found the blog!
Yes, I keep meaning to actually read "The Elements of Style". Or maybe I should start reading well written articles like the New Yorker again. And no, that doesn't mean you should get me a subscription, mom and papi. I should use our library instead!

Xaparro said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Xaparro said...

Trying again. The New Yorker you can read online. I subscribe to their email newsletter service so at least once a week they send me the features of the current issue. Another one to read would be the New York Review of Books, again I subscribe to the weekly newsletter. That way I can see what they are talking about and then delete it...