How would you feel if someone at your school began
tearing up the place? What if they damaged so much stuff that the
buy new band uniforms or computers or things that you like? You and
everybody else would want whoever did that kicked out of the school
building and fast!
This may be happening at your school. But there isn't just
one bad "somebody" who's
tearing things up. There may be millions of these "trouble-makers," and
they're not people; they're termites. Formosan subterranean termites
are especially damaging. They've made themselves at home in your school,
digging underground, building nests and eating anything made of wood.
When the weather warms up in the spring, they like to fly around
at night near the lights around the school or on athletic fields. Sometimes
there are so many of them flying around that they may have spoiled
your soccer or baseball games.
The problem is the termites are a long way from their home in east
Asia and the Pacific Islands. They were brought here accidentally,
and without any natural enemies that might keep them in check.
That's why a whole group of scientists have teamed up to control
the pests. The team is made up of scientists from the U.S. Department
of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service and Forest Service.
It also has researchers from state universities, particularly Louisiana
State University, and the City of New Orleans.
They're going to be using the newest tools available to get rid of
the termites. These new methods are safe for you and your friends,
good for your school and will help protect your town against these
creepy creatures. The only losers are the termites.
You--or your parents or teacher--may have questions about what you
will see the scientists doing around your school. We can guess what
a few of those questions are and we want to answer them now.
When my friend's house had termites, they covered
the house with a big tent and everybody had to leave for a few
days. Is that what you're going to do at my school?
No! Instead, we'll use tubes of termite bait stuck in the ground
or new termite control products that kill large numbers of termites.
We want the termites to eat the bait and take it home to their colony.
The bait has ingredients that can reduce the numbers of termites. One
of the ingredients stops an important growth step for termites. Another
ingredient is something that will slowly kill the termites.
We're also going to look for things at your school that may be making
the termite problem worse. For example, if your school's roof leaks,
that gives the termites water. If there's a lot of old wood lying around
in contact with the ground, that might give them food.
Were also going to use another product that's very safe for people,
but disrupts a termite's natural grooming behavior.
When will you start? How long will it take? Will
you be doing treatments at the school while I'm in class or out
on the playground?
The school will tell your mom and dad when this starts. The treatments
will be in the ground around your school for several years, but termite
numbers should start going down in about six months. By the time you're
in the next grade level, you'll probably see fewer termites flying
around your baseball field at night if it's next to the school.
How many of these new treatments are you going
to try at my school? Will they be all over my school or in just
a few place?
The scientists will try two kinds of termite-busters. One stops the
termites from growing their shell normally. The other is a slow-acting
poison that isn't dangerous for you, but could be very bad for the
termites, especially if they feed it to their queen. A third kind of
control is placed in the soil and affects termite behavior, but is
safe for humans and other mammals. The queen termite can lay as many
as 2,000 eggs daily. Stop her and you might stop the termites. That's
the idea: kill the queen, that egg-laying machine!
The scientists will decide which places would be best to put the
tubes They'll know because they'll first find out where the termites
are by putting down a lot of monitors without chemicals--just wood.
Where the wood gets eaten is where the termites are, and that's where
the bait will go.
Will bothering the termites with these new treatments
cause the termites to start tearing up even more things?
The termites will actually think these tubes are great. All
they care about is eating, and when they find all this good stuff
they'll think they've won the "termite lottery." But when the bait
starts working, they'll eat less, not more.
How will you know if the new treatments worked?
When the scientists put down the monitors that just contain
wood, they're actually doing a "head count" to find out how many
termites might be at your school. After the termite treatments have
the ground awhile, they'll put in more tubes with just wood. If fewer
termites eat the wood the second time around, the treatments are probably
killing termites. Other techniques will also be used to measure the
But you'll be able to tell, too. There probably won't be as many
termites in the spring flying around. Your teachers and parents will
be happy to see less damage to the school.
I have asthma. Will is be safe for me to come
to school while you're doing your treatments?
This project is very good news for you! By getting rid of leaking
plumbing and old bits of wood around the school, we reduce the amount
of mold and mildew. These living things produce spores that can make
asthma worse. Also, the bait is solid and sealed in a container in
the ground. There will be no fumes. None of the products produce fumes
and they are safer than termite treatments that have been used
for years in your homes and schools.
Can the termites hurt me or my friends?
Termites just want to eat wood--they don't want any trouble. They
won't sting and they don't make venom. Their nests are usually behind
walls and you won't know they're there. A few of the swarming termites
may land on you, but they won't harm you.
My mom's having another baby. Can she still pick
me up at school?
Yes! These treatments are applied in ways that minimize exposure
to anyone or anything except termites, the toxins in the baits are
present in very tiny amounts. The new chemicals to be used cannot
be detected in houses after soil application, even with the most sensitive
chemical detection equipment. All treatments have been thoroughly tested
for safety and are registered by the EPA.
I have a little brother who likes to get into
everything. Can he or his friends find and play with the new stuff
Your brother could dig the bait tubes up. But the tubes are sealed
with a tamper-proof cap. He could see the bait through the holes designed
to let the termites get to the bait.
If your little brother touches the bait through the holes in the
tube, it won't hurt him. But it will mess up the scientists' hard work.
It will hurt the school's chance at beating the termites. It's not
smart to play with the termite bait. Tell your brother to stay away,
and tell a teacher if you see him or anyone else playing with it.
Termites!? Can they hitch a ride on my clothes
or my shoes and get into my home?
Termites can only build a new colony when they fly in summer
or members of a colony invade from the ground. You can't spread them
them on your clothes. The workers or soldiers you may see cannot reproduce
and would not start a new colony in the unlikely event you "accidentally
took one home."
If these new treatments work on the termites at
my school, does that mean my soccer games won't be canceled anymore?
We can't guarantee that next season's games won't be bothered by
termites. But this work should reduce the number of termites so they
become less of a problem over time. Remember, the entire city of New
Orleans has colonies scattered throughout. If our methods work, they
will provide everyone the means to control the termites.
For more information, contact the Southern Regional Research Center,
Agricultural Research Service, USDA, New Orleans, La. 70179. Telephone: