One Single Family May Have Transported Invasive Termites To California 35 Years Ago

One Single Family May Have Transported Invasive Termites To California 35 Years Ago

Formosan subterranean termites are well known invasive termites that were accidentally transported to the continental United States during the 1960s. Formosan termites were first spotted in eastern Texas. Shortly thereafter these invasive termites began popping up in other Gulf states. Eventually Formosans reached Florida where they still cause massive amounts of property damage today. Many encyclopedias and other reference materials claim that Formosan termites only inhabit Gulf Coast states. However, Formosans can also be found in California. But the Formosan termites that arrived in California did not travel to the state from Texas; instead they were likely transported by a family traveling back and forth between California and Hawaii.

Although Formosan termites were not spotted in the continental US until the 1960s, these termites had been thriving on the US island of Hawaii since the late 1800s. In 1992 Formosan termites were discovered in La Mesa, California, a suburb of San Diego. The infestation that was discovered near San Diego was estimated as being ten years old. This was the first time that any type of invasive termite had been discovered in the state. Since Formosan termites were not believed to inhabit California, experts naturally wondered how they arrived in the state. As it turned out, a family that lived near the site of the infestation had frequently visited Hawaii. The family had been living on land near the site of the infestation ten years before the colony was discovered. Therefore the timing indicated that the family may have been responsible for transporting the invasive termite to the mainland. In addition to this, the family always brought native Hawaiian plants back to their California home after traveling to the island. These potted plants could have contained a small Formosan termite colony. Or maybe several termite colonies were unknowingly brought back to California from Hawaii during their years of traveling between Hawaii and California. Once the Formosan termites were properly identified several attempts were made to completely eradicate the termites from the La Mesa area. Despite these efforts, populations of invasive termites have grown and are still problematic in Southern California to this day.

Do you think that one family could have transported Formosan termites to California in their belongings? Or did the Formosans more likely arrive in California by hitching rides on shipping vessels?


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