Texas is in the middle of termite swarming season, but residents can take steps to keep from being eaten out of house and home.

Termites cause Texas an estimated $200 million to $300 million annually including prevention and control, repairs to homes, and loss of property value, said Dr. Harry Howell, associate research scientist and entomologist at Texas A&M University.

"They habituate in many counties, but not contiguously, it's spotty," he said. "There is no area free of termites even though they move much slower than fire ants."

To keep termites from moving in, take several important measures.

Start with regular inspections.

Howell advises homeowners do a pre-construction treatment of the soil with termiticides. Pressure-treat the timber that is going to be used in the lower part of the home.

Also, look at different construction techniques. "Try to choose something that is least appealing for termites to hide in, and take advantage," he said.

Several construction techniques should be used to prevent termites, Howell said. For example, any split level or sunken areas in slabs require leveling between the two. If not done properly, cracks form which allow termites to easily enter. Also, planter boxes built against a house aid termites to climb through the soil, into the planter box and into the house through a crack. Stucco covering needs to be terminated about 8 inches above the soil or termites will find access to the house.

"The bottom line is, you don't want them to take advantage of your mistakes," he said.

Howell listed several types of termites: native subterranean, Formosan, dampwood and drywood termites.

Moist, humid weather is ideal for termites, and swarming season is from January to April, he said. But termites have adapted to dry areas as well.

"There are multiple swarms in different areas of the state, but each colony will only swarm one time, but not necessarily on the same day," Howell said. "And it will be within a very narrow range of days, say within 10 days."

Dampwood termites are very restrictive, he said. They are found in the El Paso area and New Mexico. They live in the heartwood of the trees, where it is damp. They will also enter damp wood in structures such as below leaking evaporative air conditioners.

Drywood termites are found throughout Texas with the highest concentrations along the Gulf Coast. They live in sound, dry wood, and they damage timber as they consume it. They leave a sculptured appearance to their galleries, together with fecal pellets. Drywood termites swarm mostly in late summer and early fall.

Native subterranean termites are the most destructive. They cause more property damage than caused by fire and wind storms combined. Normally, they feed on dead trees and brush, but when land is cleared and houses are built on these sites, they attack those structures. They swarm in daylight during the spring, and are found throughout the United States with the higher concentration in the Southeast.

Formosan termites have been known to attack more than 47 plant species. They feed on wood and have been known to eat through thin sheets of soft metal, asphalt, plaster, creosote, rubber and plastic in search for food and moisture. Currently, there are 15 counties that have been identified as having infestations. The most are along the Gulf Coast with some having moved inland.

"Formosan subterranean termites tend to do more damage than native subterranean termites, but their populations are not as widely distributed because natives, as the name implies, have been here for many millions of years," Howell said.

Formosan termites were recently introduced to the United States, he said. They came from Latin America and Asia in the 1950s and 1960s through the Port of Houston, and have moved north to Denton County. Their territory extends south to Hidalgo County and west to Bexar County.

Termites are transported by hitching rides on construction and landscaping timber and wooden mulch moved from one site to another, Howell said.

"Termites might be infesting an area, and if someone gets timber from that area and moves it, termites will establish where it is moved to," he said.

According to the Texas A&M termite Web site, http://termite.

Tamu.edu, termites enter buildings through wood in direct contact with the soil, by building shelter tubes over or through foundations, or by entering directly through cracks or joints in and under foundations.

Signs of infestation include winged insects or shed wings on window sills, near lights or in cobwebs, damaged wood and shelter tubes, which are made from soil, wood or debris running from the soil ground to the wood structure of houses.

"Don't panic, termites are controllable," Howell said.

He recommends contacting a pest control company, adding many specialized materials are required, and these companies use chemicals not commercially available. Also, professionals guarantee their work.

"If you do it yourself and you do it wrong, you'll have to do it again, and you have to identify the type of termites correctly to be able to know how to treat it," he said.

According to the Web page, barrier and baiting programs are main types of control for termites.

Baiting is an active type of control. The pest control company inspects every 30 to 45 days until termite activity ceases. Much time is required for baits to eliminate termites, usually from a few weeks to more than a year.

A barrier treatments is a passive type of control. It requires the pest control company to treat the soil around the perimeter of the foundation and soil under certain parts of the slab on grade foundation with a liquid termiticide. It begins to protect the structure immediately upon application, and no re-inspection is necessary until after 12 months.

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