First came the clouds of mosquitoes, then the swarms of flies and now insect experts are warning that teams of termites could be hard at work in homes across Melbourne.
Thanks to a series of ideal weather events, termites are currently "having a ball" said Dr Don Ewart, an entomologist who teaches pest management at Melbourne Polytechnic.
According to Dr Ewart, the same weather conditions that have made the environment right for the recent mozzie and fly explosion are also perfect conditions for termite breeding and exploring.
"They have had a good, wet spring and we are getting this moisture, and they are still quite actively exploring," he said.
"The pest managers who do specialist termite work are all run off their feet."
Dr Ewart says it is shaping up to be a particularly bad summer. In fact it might already be bad but we have not yet noticed.
"Generally the soil moisture is high, that makes a big difference to termites. Termites are really just organised cockroaches," he said.
"They like to go tunnelling and so it is much easier for them to find a place to attack … their attacks [often] go for several weeks or several months before anybody notices."
Termites are attracted by moisture and dampness, so anything involving water can be a hazard for homeowners.
Termites always need a drink, Dr Ewart says, "and if the food is close to the water source then life is really good. Otherwise they have to keep carrying water with them and that means they explore less."
Suburbs including Williamstown, South Melbourne and Footscray "are getting lots of attacks at this time of year", Dr Ewart says – but new suburbs are no safer than older ones.
"New suburbs will have a few attacks and then they get about 10 years old and tend to have a whole lot more," he said.
Matthew Lynn first realised the termites had invaded his home in Melbourne's north when he noticed thousands of tiny wings.
"The exterminator confirmed they were definitely termite wings but we couldn't find any evidence of an infestation so he went around and tapped the whole house with a golf ball on a stick and searched through and through and then gave me the all clear," he said.
Forty-five minutes after the exterminator left, a termite buried its head through the floorboards in his hallway.
Mr Lynn ripped up the floor and found all the floorboards had been turned into dust and his living room had "been eaten out as well … it was quite a substantial infestation".
He says that finding a termite infestation is similar to finding you have an STD in that, "you have to go round and tell all your neighbours".
Mr Lynn said having a house full of termites can happen to anyone.
"I don't live anywhere near a waterway; I live in the inner city so I didn't expect it. It could happen anywhere," he said.
He advises homeowners to be cautious of termites this summer.
"Keep an eye out for those wings", he said.
Dr Ewart believes there is no silver bullet with termite control and it can sometimes "get ugly". Keeping termites out, he says, can be "really complicated".
The only thing you can really do is get the place inspected by someone who knows what they are doing and get their advice," he said.
Tips for dealing with termites
Dr Ewart says the warning signs of a termite infestation include:
- Lots of discarded wings from swarmers inside the house
- When the vacuum cleaner leaves a dent in the skirting board
- Strange bits of mud in plasterwork
- Any cracked or bubbling paint
What to do if you have termites:
- Don't try and get rid of them yourself – if they are disturbed they will move to another place in the house
- Call a pest control professional and get them to come and inspect your house immediately
How to prevent termite infestation:
- Have regular inspections so you find and deal with them before damage gets bad
- Eliminate any moisture problems – keep house dry
- Ventilate all possible subfloor areas and ensure vents are kept free and clear
- Fix all plumbing leaks
- Check all gutters and down spouts- make sure water ends up well away from the house
- Avoid having gardens directly against walls