New Orleans is world-famous for its fantastic cuisine, but there's
one group of diners the city doesn't welcome: Formosan subterranean
termites. They're gnawing their way through the historic Vieux Carre,
and that's just the appetizer as far as these voracious invaders are
concerned. All told, Formosan subterranean termites cost consumers
about $1 billion nationally each year including repair expenses.
The pests aren't stopping with structures. They also damage one of
our native treasures: the live oak trees. Recently, they killed "Thirsty
Oak," a treasured tree in City Park. One-third of New Orleans' historically
important live oaks are infested by Formosan subterranean termites.
That loss is beyond any dollar figure.
The termites don't belong here--they are exotic pests. Evidence indicates
they came to Louisiana as stowaways in ships returning home from World
War II. Since their natural enemies didn't accompany them on their
pilgrimage to the Crescent City, the termites have been free to spread
their colonies with abandon. Just ask people in Texas, Florida, Hawaii
and South Carolina they're infested, too.
The time has come for the "Second Battle of New Orleans." The program's
name: Operation Full Stop. The goal: beating these invaders back to
manageable levels. It's a tough task because pesticides currently available
are not as persistent as those banned prior to 1988 for environmental
and health concerns. It's also a challenge because their populations
have exploded to such great levels.
The program will include special termite control efforts in 15 target
blocks in the Vieux Carre, all connected and radiating out from Jackson
Square. The program will also cover 32 acres in Louis Armstrong Park,
and 15 New Orleans-area schools will participate in the project. The
program is three-part: detection, treatment and monitoring. The termite
population as a whole in New Orleans may not diminish, but the technologies
developed in the program can be used to reduce termites anywhere.
Scientists with the Agricultural Research Service are teaming up
with the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center to find ways
to fight the termites with environmentally-friendly controls. The New
Orleans Mosquito and Termite Control Board also is a very active team
member. "Command Central" for this war will be ARS' Southern Regional
Research Center in New Orleans. What we learn in Louisiana will help
our termite-tormented neighbors in other states. The Audubon Institute
is part of the educational component of the program.
What activities will the program include?
We have a three-part strategy of detection, treatment and monitoring.
Throughout the treatment, area researchers will distribute monitoring
tubes. These tubes won't have bait--just wood. The purpose of these monitoring
tubes is to give scientists an indication of where the termites are.
Based on where the wood gets eaten, the researchers will substitute
bait for the wood. The bait will contain a growth regulator or a slow-acting
poison. This is the foundation for the large-area elimination of the
termites. Other control technologies will be used, too. Once the population
is eliminated, the bait will be removed. For buildings and homes that
are infested, researchers will use a small container to get the toxicant
into the colony.
For structures being attacked by larger number of termites, or for
trees under attack, a spot- treatment with EPA-approved chemicals may
be used. Improved building sanitation, such as preventing leaks and
water build-up, will be carried out to prevent future infestation.
Termite barriers such as stainless steel mesh or treated wood may also
After the termite populations are eliminated, researchers will
continue to check populations, using the wood-filled monitoring tubes.
The goal is to detect and kill the termites before they cause damage
in the future.
How can you be sure these treatments won't hurt
other native insects, plants or fish?
The bait tube is in the ground and has a tamper-proof seal so curious
animals don't take it apart. Moreover, the openings that allow the
termites access are very small. The baiting process is designed to
place the chemicals where the termites are. Once the termite activity
disappears, the bait is removed.
What can you do to save the live oaks? What other
trees can be affected?
Traditional pesticide treatments have been of limited use and are
not labeled for use in trees. In addition to oaks, cypress, ash and
other trees are at risk. The best hope for the trees is that these
new controls will reduce termite populations. One of the big problems
is that Formosan subterranean termites can reproduce in extremely high
numbers, so a few--but enough-- survive attempts at control. If these
baits stem their numbers by disrupting their life cycle or killing
the queen, it will help all the trees. Trees, too, can be treated.
New methods including baiting and direct injection of toxins are being
Will this project help cut down on nuisance swarms
It will reduce the nuisance swarms in areas that are being treated,
but not throughout the rest of the city. When the results of the test
are widely distributed, property owners across the city can use the
techniques and materials through professional pest control operators.
How is this project different from current control efforts?
Previous efforts focused on defending single buildings by treating
soil around them. This project will hit the termites where they live--in
the colony. We will give termite workers toxins which they in turn
will feed to the entire colony. We won't focus on building by building;
we'll be treating entire areas. We've seen this work in smaller experimental
We'll try a number of approaches in addition to the baits. We will
look at biological control-- bringing in the termites' natural enemies
in to stem their growth. Of course, we'd have to be sure any biological
import is safe for Louisiana and the nation's ecosystems. We'll also
work on designing better baits, finding ways homeowners can reduce
infestation that can spread to urban forests, and creating physical
barriers to protect homes and our precious live oaks. This is an all-out
assault on the Formosan termite.
For more information, contact the Southern Regional Research Center,
Agricultural Research Service, USDA, New Orleans, La. 70179. Telephone: