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Scientists Take on Termites at the
Capitol By Amy
May 31, 2002
Earlier this spring, Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists in New Orleans, La., were
called upon to investigate an infestation of termites at the
U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.
Termites, which typically swarm between January and June
depending on type, made an appearance this February in the historic building.
William Pessagno of the U.S. Capitol superintendents office had been
working with a private contractor to control the problem. However, when two
treatments with a commercial termiticide failed to stop swarming activity, he
contacted ARS researchers at the
Regional Research Center in New Orleans for additional help.
Termite samples sent from Washington were identified by SRRC
entomologists as Reticulitermes virginicus, a native subterranean
species. This identification came as something of a relief to caretakers of the
Capitol. Although destructive, native termites are easier to control than
Coptotermes formosanus--or Formosan subterranean termite--an exotic
species the SRRC scientists are now studying. C. formosanus has
established itself in Hawaii, Louisiana and other southern states.
At the Capitol, all infested baseboards have been removed from
the affected room, and insecticide has been applied around its perimeter. No
subsequent termite activity has been detected, but SRRC researchers will
continue to follow up on control measures.
Operation Full Stop
In New Orleans, which hosts the largest concentration of
Formosan subterranean termites in the continental United States, SRRC
scientists and their collaborators have expanded a termite control testing area
from 15 to 30 blocks in the French Quarter. This large-area test is part of
Operation Full Stop, a national campaign
to reduce the number of Formosan termites in the United States.
Formosan termites are more aggressive than native species, live
in much larger colonies and are more voracious feeders. They can penetrate
plaster, plastic and asphalt to get to a new food source. Results from the
15-block testing area have been promising. Scientists hope to continue
suppressing and eliminating Formosan populations in the larger testing
ARS is the chief scientific research agency of the
U.S. Department of Agriculture.