It only takes one king and queen to create an entire army of these foreign
assailants. A mature colony can produce about 2,000 eggs a day. The colony
can contain millions of termites in a caste system--king, queen, workers,
soldiers, and reproductives or alates (winged termites). The workers
provide the food, the soldiers defend the nest, and reproductives breed
the colony. The alates or winged form of these termites swarm from April
Where did this pest come from? It is believed they were first brought
into the United States on military ships and supplies returning from
the Pacific theater after World War II. Their main points of entry were
New Orleans and Lake Charles, La.; Galveston and Houston, Texas; and
Charleston, S.C. It has taken the termite 50 years to spread, but unfortunately,
infestations appear to be increasing as colonies multiply, grow and expand
across the United States.
Any termite is bad news for home and building owners, but the Formosan
subterranean termite is especially a problem.
This more aggressive termite species is becoming even more prevalent
than native termite species in some areas. Native species generally feed
on dead trees and processed wood. Formosan termites have a horrific appetite
and can use new food sources as long as there is a water source nearby.
Their diets consist of anything that contains wood fiber (homes, buildings
and live trees), and crops and plants. Formosan termites can penetrate
plaster, plastic and asphalt to get to a new food source. They build
large carton nests above or below ground. A highly fertile queen, a long
life span, and an extensive foraging system from a central nest site
results in much larger colonies than native termite species. A queen
may live 15 or more years and workers and soldiers may live three to
Formosan subterranean termites costs consumers more than $1 billion
a year, including the cost of repairs. In New Orleans alone, it's estimated
that the pest infests as many as 30 percent of the trees and can cost
individual homeowners several thousand dollars a year in damage and control
These termites tunnel underground and can easily find untreated spots
to infest homes, buildings and trees. Although the best way to detect
this pest is to consult with professionals, home and building owners
can still reduce some of the risks of infestations themselves by reducing
or eliminating water sources such as leaky pipes; removing any wood and
debris in contact with the soil, like wood trellises connected to homes;
replacing damaged sills, and floors, and sealing cracks in concrete and
other structural materials. These termites can eat door frames, window
sills, floor rafters, and roofing. Even some new buildings and homes
have suffered from Formosan termite damage.
If Formosan termites have been in this country for half a century, why
are we hearing so much about them now?
It has taken a while for the number of individual colonies to build
up and expand. The pest's destruction is now becoming visible as structural
damage, like decaying floors, falling walls and deteriorating trees becomes
These termites do most of their damage inside walls. They get into walls
from the soil, ceiling or some other invisible pathway. They can go undetected
until it's too late.
A ban in 1988 on the last organo-chlorine termite poison, due to human
health and safety concerns, escalated the Formosan termite problem. Their
chemical replacements were not as effective. The Formosan termite has
demonstrated the ability to infest wooden structures even though the
soil surrounding them has been treated. The pest had a chance to thrive
in the United States, literally wreaking havoc on structures and trees.
In a national effort, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural
Research Service (ARS) is teaming up with other government agencies,
private organizations and universities to develop strategies and tools
for suppressing this unwanted invader.
As the lead agency in the National Formosan Subterranean Termite Program,
ARS is launching an attack aimed at suppressing these termites with minimum
cost and pesticide use. The plan includes evaluating existing technologies
and developing new and improved technologies, like monitoring devices
to detect Formosan termites, baits that deliver small effective doses
of toxicants and insect growth regulators, physical barriers or termite
shields, and biological control agents.
The program emphasizes employment of a community-based or large-area
approach to attacking the Formosan termite. Instead of just preventing
termites from entering individual structures by treating the soil surrounding
them, the Program will employ technologies to control the termites as
a pest over wide areas.
With an array of scientific talent available and committed to tackling
this problem, historic buildings, homes, trees, and crops may stand a
fighting chance against this voracious pest.
For more information, contact the Southern Regional Research Center,
Agricultural Research Service, USDA, New Orleans, La. 70179. Telephone: