In spring, alate
traps are placed on lampposts throughout New Orleans' French Quarter to monitor
mating Formosan subterranean termites. Click the image for more information
Video clip of swarming alates
Termite Researchers Find a Source of Calm Before
the Swarm By Erin
Peabody May 13, 2005
Most signs of spring, like budding trees, are worth celebrating. But
for many in the South, the annual emergence of fertile, winged termites
swarming furiously to scatter and search for mates isn't one of them.
In New Orleans, as the swirling, airborne masses of termites become
more conspicuous, researchers with the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) are busy developing a biopesticide
that could someday knock down large numbers of Formosan subterranean
termites--before they ever take flight.
Lax--researchers in the ARS
Subterranean Termite Research Unit--have discovered a new strain of the
fungus Metarhizium anisopliae that is highly effective against alates,
the adult swarming form of the termite.
The invasive Formosan termite causes hundreds of millions of dollars
in damage and control costs each year. Emerging in late April through June, the
winged adults fly briefly before they drop to the ground, shed their wings and
find a mate with which to start a new colony that may grow to hundreds of
thousands of wood-destroying termites.
The researchers' find is significant, according to Raina, because many
current control efforts focus on eliminating termite workers in colonies--not
on destroying alates during the crucial period before they form new colonies.
Raina stumbled across the novel fungal strain after capturing dozens
of swarming alates for other studies. To his surprise, all of the insects died
within 24 hours. The culprit? A velvety, light-colored fungus overrunning the
While a strain of Metarhizium has already been commercialized for
termite control, this new isolate is especially lethal to alates--killing them
in only three days. According to Wright, just as some people can run faster
than others, some fungi are simply more potent than others of their
The researchers are currently seeking collaborators to further develop
a formulation to deliver the fungal spores. They envision applying the fungus
to buildings and trees already known to harbor termites before the swarms are
in full swing.
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.