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Posts Tagged ‘Formosan Subterranean Termites’

New Orleans and Formosan Subterranean Termites

The Formosan subterranean termite is an invasive pest in the southeastern states and parts of southern California. These destructive pests probably first arrived in the country within infested boxes that were unloaded from ships that had just returned to the US from the far east during the 1940s. However, Formosan subterranean termites (FST) were not officially documented as inhabiting the US until the 1960s when colonies were recovered near Houston. Less than two years after FST colonies were discovered near Houston, the pests were documented in New Orleans, but they did not emerge as major pests in the city until the late 1970s and 1980s. By 2000, FSTs had inflicted more than one billion dollars in structural damages in the Gulf Coast States, and most of this damage occurred in the French Quarter. That same year, experts estimated that 80 percent of urban buildings and nearly all residential homes in New Orleans had been affected by FSTs.

Today, FSTs can be found in 11 states, but pest control authorities have managed to contain the further spread of the pests, and they remain most problematic in New Orleans. Humans are largely responsible for this species’ expansion across the southeast, as research conducted by Brian Forschler, an associate professor at the University of Georgia, provides strong evidence that infested railroad ties from Louisiana were sold as landscaping products to stores in nearby states. In the late 1990s, the federal government initiated a 15 million dollar area-wide FST abatement program in New Orleans that would go on to last for 15 years. This program was named Operation Full Stop, and while there is no way to eradicate FSTs once they have been established, the program succeeded in containing the pests and reducing infestation rates in New Orleans. The program also allowed pest control professionals and urban entomologists to better understand how this exotic termite pest behaves and how it could be controlled. For example, it was found that an FST colony can eat 1,000 pounds of wood per year, while a native subterranean termite colony can only eat a mere seven pounds of wood per year. This is not surprising considering that a mature FST colony contains 10 million individual termites, far more than the hundreds of thousands found in mature native subterranean termite colonies. In fact, a home in Lake Charles was found to be infested with one FST colony that contained 70 million individual termites.

Were you living in New Orleans while Operation Full Stop was in progress?

The Temperature And Relative Humidity That Formosan Subterranean Termites Require In Order To Infest Structural Wood

Termites are well known insect pests of structural wood, but few people are aware that the vast majority of termite species are not in the habit of feeding on woodwork. Around 3,000 termite species have been documented worldwide, and the vast majority of these species inhabit tropical regions where dense vegetation, frequent rainfall, humid air, and warm temperatures allow the insects to thrive. In fact, numerous scientific studies have shown that termites may be the primary decomposers of dead plant material in tropical regions.

Termites are ecologically essential components of rainforest ecosystems, as their feeding habits break down large pieces of plant debris, like fallen branches, logs, stumps, dead roots and sticks. Without termites, rainforest soil would lose its arability, and the world would quickly become uninhabitable to humans and most other animals. This is why the continents of South America and Africa alone are home to well over half of all documented termite species, while the temperate US is home to only 50 termite species. Despite the relatively low number of termite species in the US, billions of dollars in termite damage is inflicted to homes and buildings in the subtropical southeastern US annually, and Louisiana is one of the most affected states.

Just like tropical termite species, most of the termite species that infest structures in Louisiana require an abundance of moisture and year round warmth in order to thrive. Surprisingly, most termite pest species in Louisiana would not be able to survive as far north as the midwestern states. Louisiana homeowners should venture into their crawl spaces, attics, and other indoor areas in order to measure relative humidity levels, as doing so will help to prevent costly termite infestations.

The most common and destructive termite pest species throughout Louisiana is the Formosan subterranean termite, and they can inflict structural wood damage in environments where the relative humidity is as low as 55 percent. However, one thorough study showed that Formosan subterranean termites only feed on structural wood located in areas where the relative humidity of ambient air exceeds 70 percent and temperatures are between 77 and 85 degrees. However, 90 percent relative humidity and a constant temperature of 82 degrees provides Formosan subterranean termites with optimal feeding conditions.

Have you ever inspected you ever measured the relative humidity in your home for the purpose of termite control?

How Did Pest Control Professionals Finally Manage To Control The Spread Of Formosan Subterranean Termites In Louisiana Cities?

Formosan subterranean termite swarms occur each year during the month of May in Louisiana, but swarms can also emerge during April in the state. Early Formosan swarms are common when the preceding winter season is mild. Once winged Formosan termites (alates) take flight they gravitate to artificial light sources, like porch lights and street lights. Since Formosan swarms are particularly massive in size, they can become quite a nuisance around homes. This is why many Louisiana residents keep their outside lights off during the Formosan termite swarming season. Formosan alates bring the invasive termites into new regions, but underground Formosan habitats can cover several square miles of land, and can reach 30 feet below the ground surface. In most cases, Formosan subterranean termite infestations start when a foraging worker stumbles upon a home’s structural wood. This is not surprising considering that 99% of swarming alates die before starting a new colony. Although the spread of Formosan subterranean termites in Louisiana has slowed during recent years, the termites are still abundant all over the state, particularly in New Orleans.

Formosan subterranean termite colonies were found in Texas and Louisiana during the 1960s, but it was not until the 1970’s that the invasive termites emerged in massive numbers in urban and residential regions of southern Louisiana where they spread to trees, houses and buildings rapidly. The city that saw the greatest degree of Formosan termite destruction was New Orleans, especially the French Quarter. Starting in 1978, the economic cost of Formosan termite damage continued to increase dramatically with each passing year until next-generation poison baits became available during the 1990s. If it had not been for the introduction of effective baits that poison entire Formosan termite colonies, there would not be anything left of New Orleans today. The annual economic cost of Formosan termite control programs and damage repairs may soon surpass the annual cost of eastern subterranean termite activity. Nearly a decade ago, Formosan subterranean termite pest activity cost nearly 2 billion dollars per year, and this figure is likely much higher today.

Can you tell the difference between a Formosan subterranean termite swarm and swarms comprised of alates from other termite species?

 

 

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