some termites look like white ants
This dead termite may look a bit like an ant, but it's actually more closely related to cockroaches.

All homeowners should have some basic knowledge about termites. After all, suffering a termite attack is the most likely and most expensive adverse event to befall a homeowner. However, from the questions and comments we’ve received over the years, it’s clear that there’s a lot of misinformation out there.

So what’s true and what’s “fake news”?

1) Termites and “white ants” are the same thing.

True. Termite and “white ants” are the same thing, but termites aren’t ants at all. In fact, termites are more closely related to cockroaches than ants. So it’s best to call them termites rather than “white ants”.

2) Termites don’t attack steel-framed or double brick houses.

Fake news. For sure, termites do not eat through metal or bricks, but remember such homes will often have wooden doors, architraves, window frames, skirting boards and sometimes wood flooring, and double brick homes will have wood roofing timbers. The bottom line is that if there is wood present, there’s always a chance the termites will find it!

3) Termites can eat through concrete.

Fake news (depending on where you live!). Most pest termite species in Australia only eat wood (cardboard and paper), their jaws simply aren’t strong enough to chew through concrete. This is certainly the case in our neck of the woods in South Australia. However, they will crawl through gaps in concrete as small as 2mm and if the mortar is crumbling they can move loose bits to make a hole bigger. But they can chew through some plastics (but don’t eat them).

However, the giant northern termite found in the Northern Territory, parts of northern West Australia and around Townsville, is a different beast altogether. It is many times larger than other pest termites and its soldiers can draw blood if they bite. They have been known to chew through plastic cabling, rubber tyres, lead piping and yes, sometimes concrete.

4) If you’ve got black ants you won’t get termites.

Fake news. Yes, many species of ant will attack and eat termites, but ants aren’t exactly patrolling the perimeter of your home looking to stop termites from entering the building! On top of this, termites often move around protected inside their mud tubes allowing them to bypass any ant activity without being noticed.

giant northern termite - termite control
The giant northern termite can eat through most things and demolish a home in as little as 6 months!

5) If I don’t disturb the termites in the garden they won’t attack my house.

Fake news. Termites are always looking for food. If there are termites in your yard, then there is always the chance they could find their way into your house. It’s always best to make your garden less attractive to termites – avoid using wood mulch, remove tree stumps and keep moisture down in garden beds around the house.

6) Termites have come from the neighbour.

Fake news. We sometimes hear this when the neighbour has had a termite treatment, but the reality is that if the neighbour is suffering a termite attack, it means that there are termites in the area and your house could be under attack too! In fact, it is estimated that 80% of all homes in Australia are within 25 m of a termite nest, and termites are capable of travelling up to 100 m from their nest to a feeding site.

7) Termites don’t eat hardwood.

Fake news. Certainly, termites do prefer some woods over others and they generally find it easier to eat softer woods, but termites will eat almost all wood types, even hardwoods and “termite repellent” timber. What a termite nest chooses to attack just depends on the food sources available and what the colony requirements are at the time.

8) Termites can eat through a house in a matter of months.

Fake news (depending on where you live!). Even big nests of the common pest termite species will take several years to cause extensive damage to a house. But that’s not to say the damage they can cause in several months won’t be costly to repair and upsetting. As you move into the warmer areas of Australia the rate of destruction of all pest termites starts to increase. Our “friend” the giant northern termite is the exception to the rule, they can destroy a home in as little as 6 months!

9) “We don’t need a pre-purchase pest inspection as there are no termites in our area”.

Fake news. Wood damaging termites are present throughout Australia (apart from Tasmania). Don’t listen to state or local governments on this topic either. For example in Melbourne, some suburbs are designated termite risks areas (and so new homes need to have certain termite protection measures included during construction) and some suburbs are not listed as an area of termite risk. Apart from the fact that termites are indeed everywhere, such a designation is clearly nonsense… since when do termite know which suburb they are in?

When you’re buying a property – the biggest investment you will make – a pre-purchase termite pest inspection will help you avoid making a big financial mistake. Remember these inspections are for timber pests, so pick up borer and decay problems as well as termite activity.

10) Termite damage is covered by home insurance.

Fake news. Standard home insurance does not include termite damage. This is why it is important to have a pre-purchase termite inspection before buying a home and annual termite inspections thereafter. Of course, a comprehensive termite management system will prevent a termite attack and many treatments will come with a warranty and some level of insurance (providing you maintain annual termite inspections).

As you can see, when it comes to termites there are a lot of urban myths or “fake news”. So, if you’ve got a question about termites and you want the facts, talk to the experts at Spiderman SE.