Question: I recently noticed unusual looking areas in the drywall in my home. When I opened up the area I noticed small white critters. Can they be termites? Can I take care of this myself or do I need a professional?

Answer: The first step is always an accurate identification. Unfortunately from your sample it looks like a termite. Normally we think of termite damaging only wood, but they eat anything that contains cellulose which includes the paper covering sheetrock. Damage may be found unexpectedly, but most of the time it is found during renovations. Without inspections performed on an annual basis, the damage may remain undetected for many years.

Termites are social insects with a king, queen and various other castes. The king, queen and swarmers are the only darkly pigmented with the rest being white. The majority of the other termites are the workers with various jobs, one of which is searching for food. These are usually the ones found doing the damage. As the workers numbers grow, so does their feeding area. A mature colony may contain up to two million workers, but usually it averages at around 50,000 to 60,000.

Other pest problems may be able to be taken on by the homeowner, but when it comes to termites it requires special skills from a licensed professional. You might want to contact two to three companies and ask for references. Initial inspections and estimates from more than one company will help confirm the existence of the problem and allow you to compare services.

Do-it-yourself products sold to homeowners seldom eradicate an existing termite problem.

The two types of treatments commonly employed are soil treatment and baiting. Soil applied liquids have been around for decades. They are designed to provide a barrier to prevent the termites in the ground from entering the home. The termites already in the structure die as well as they are prevented from returning to the soil.

Older products were considered repellents whereas newer products are non-repellent and kill termites entering the treated area. Overall the non-repellents are proving to be more reliable to resolve the problem in the first attempt. Baiting involves installing tubes underground in 10-foot intervals encircling the house. Each tube contains the toxic bait which is then examined regularly.

Liquid treatment provides immediate results whereas baits may take several months for the termites to find the stations. However, the liquid treatment involves some drilling into structures as well as a large volume of insecticides. Bait treatment contains the chemical treatment inside the tube thereby having a less environmental impact.

Mona Bawgus is a certified master gardener and consumer horticulturist with Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Atlantic County. Write to her c/o Rutgers Cooperative Extension, 6260 Old Harding Highway, Mays Landing, NJ 08330. Email: