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Photo: Formosan subterranean termites. Link to photo information
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Scientists Take on Termites at the Capitol

By Amy Spillman
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 superintendent’s 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 Southern 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 FullStop logo
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 area.

ARS is the chief scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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