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Why Did It Take Local Leaders And Urban Entomologists Decades To Gain Adequate Control Over The Invasive Formosan Subterranean Termite In New Orleans?

Termites are the most economically costly pests of homes and buildings in the US, as they inflict billions of dollars in structural wood damage each year in the country. The most destructive termite pest in the country is easily the eastern subterranean termite (Reticulitermes flavipes), as this species is far more widespread than all other termite pest species in the US. Louisiana is one of the very few, or possibly the only US state where most termite-related destruction is committed by an invasive termite species. This invasive termite pest is commonly known as the Formosan subterranean termite (Coptotermes formanosus), and it emerged in large numbers in New Orleans during the early 1980s. Since then, the Formosan subterranean termite has devastated structures and oak trees in New Orleans, and they have spread to the rest of the state. Considering that the FST was first discovered in New Orleans and other areas along the Gulf Coast during the 1960s, many people wonder why local leaders, urban entomologists and pest control professionals were not better prepared to manage this notably destructive pest once they emerged in New Orleans 20 years later.

Although the FST was first discovered in the US during the mid-1960s when colonies were recovered near shipping ports in Houston, Galveston and New Orleans, experts agree that the termite pests arrived in the country 20 years earlier within infested crates, shipping materials and wooden pallets that were unloaded from ships returning from Asia at the end of World War Two. These infested wooden materials quickly found their way into landfills where they were buried deep beneath the ground. The moist landfill soil allowed FSTs to proliferate, but it likely took the pests several years to travel from urban landfills to urban New Orleans. While reproductive swarmers (alates) from FST colonies would have been noticed before colonies arrived in New Orleans, experts likely mistook large FST alates for similar looking alates of native drywood termite species. Shortly after FST pests became noticeably prevalent in New Orleans, the leading termiticide at the time, chlordane, was discontinued by the EPA, which allowed FSTs to wreak even more havoc during the 1980s. By the 1990s, FST infestations were causing 300 million dollars in damages annually in New Orleans alone. Due to years of FST research conducted in New Orleans, pest control professionals eventually managed to gain an adequate degree of control over FST pest activity in the city.

Have you ever witnessed a swarm of Formosan subterranean termites emerge from a nest?



Which Group Of Termite Pests In The US Are Absent From Louisiana, And Which Termite Pest Species In The State Originate From Other Countries?

There are three types of termites in the US, and each one differs in habitat and foraging requirements. These termite groups are known as subterranean, drywood and dampwood termites, and multiple species from each group are known for infesting structural woodwork in homes and buildings. Dampwood termite species can only be found in the western states and Florida, and due to their pronounced reliance on high-moisture conditions, they only infest woods that have decayed from excessive water absorption. The relatively small number of dampwood termite structural infestations that occur in the US often see nymphs and psueogrates (analogous to subterranean termite workers) attack unpainted, unvarnished, and sometimes, unprocessed wood, but they may inflict damage to the hardwood flooring in old homes in advanced infestation cases. Dampwood termites rarely establish economically costly infestations, and they cannot be found in Louisiana.

Many species of drywood termite have been documented in the US, and their habitat is limited solely to the southern states. A total of four drywood termite pest species attack homes and buildings in Louisiana, two of which are not native to the state. These species are commonly known as West Indian drywood powderpost termites (Cryptotermes brevis) and the western drywood termite (Incisitermes minor), and these two species may be the most destructive drywood termite pests in Louisiana. The powderpost termite has established an invasive habitat in tropical areas all over the globe, and it is the most widespread drywood termite species in the world.

Due to genetic changes resulting from this species’ worldwide establishment, determining its native origin is difficult, but most experts agree that powderpost termites are native to the neotropics. Interestingly, and unlike other drywood termite pest species, powderpost termites are never found infesting wood in the natural environment; instead, colonies are found solely in structural wood, wood furniture, and other wood items that are frequently shipped over long distances. The western drywood termite is native to the southwestern US, and it’s the most economically costly drywood termite pest in the country. This species was first discovered in Louisiana in 1999 when an infested tree branch was recovered from Louis Armstrong Park. Shortly after this branch was found, an extensive western drywood termite infestation was found spanning multiple floors in the nearby Perseverance Hall building.

Can you recognize the difference between drywood termite swarmers and subterranean termite swarmers?

Officials Warn Residents About This Season’s Heavy Termite Population

Every year, urban entomologists and pest control professionals urge Louisiana homeowners to take measures to prevent termites from infesting their property before swarms emerge during the spring season. This year’s early arrival of multiple Formosan subterranean termite swarms in Metairie, Slidell, Lakeview, and New Orleans is indicative of a termite-heavy summer season.

Last April, the Louisiana Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner, Mike Strain, warned residents about the likelihood of high termite pest activity in the coming weeks. According to Strain, homeowners should spend their downtime in quarantine inspecting their home for termite damage, as well as for conditions that are conducive to termite pest activity. Residents have been heeding Strain’s advice, and professional termite inspection services have been common this spring in southern Louisiana despite the COVID lockdown.

Termite swarmers are known as “alates,” and Formosan alates emerge from mature colonies around Mother’s Day every year in order to establish new colonies. Alates of many termite pest species in Louisiana emerge during the spring, but Formosan swarms are unique for being particularly large and common in urban centers. Formosan alates take flight in humid, windless, and 90 degree conditions during and after dusk, and most swarms occur shortly after rainfall.

Formosan alates have a strong attraction to artificial lighting, and this attraction prompts massive swarms to gravitate around street lights, porch lights, and even indoor lights. This is one of several reasons as to why Formosan subterranean termite infestation rates are epidemic in urban areas where the pests are found, most notably in New Orleans.

Luckily for homeowners, the vast majority of alates in a swarm die before establishing a new colony, but the very few alates that manage to mate in a shallow ground burrow typically survive to become the queen and king of a new colony. Since alates are weak flyers, most swarms fail to travel more than 300 yards away from the colony in which they emerged.

While alates of most subterranean termite species almost always establish new colonies within moist ground soil, Formosan alates are unique for frequently initiating colonies in moist structural wood located high above the ground. Many experts agree that New Orleans is more heavily affected by Formosan subterranean termite pest activity than any other city in the world, and their non-native habitat in the southern US can never be eradicated. At least one professional termite inspection should be carried out on all Louisiana properties at least once per year.

Do you have a professional termite inspection carried out on your property each year?



Pinpointing Termite Infested Structural Wood

Considering that Louisiana is home to nine termite pest species that are known to infest structural wood, including the tremendously destructive invasive Formosan subterranean termite, all homes in the state should undergo an annual termite inspection by a licensed pest control professional. It is also a good idea for homeowners to learn how to recognize the common signs of a termite infestation so that they may conduct their own amatuer inspections once every three months.

Homeowners should look for vertical mud tubes along foundation walls and within crawl spaces to determine if subterranean termites have accessed substructural wood. Attics should be inspected for the presence of sawdust or “frass” that drywood termites eject from infested wood members. While a professional inspection is the best way of determining whether or not a home is infested or is likely to become infested with termites, it should be known that as much as 45 percent of a home’s interior space may be inaccessible to inspectors. Several detection methods that allow inspectors to check for termite activity behind walls and in other inaccessible indoor spaces have been introduced and tested for efficacy over the years. Some of these detection methods have become standard, while others remain obscure.

Many pest control professionals use acoustic emission detectors to amplify the sounds that termites make as they excavate wood within inaccessible spaces. Devices that detect the methane gas emitted by termites have also been developed, but the efficacy of these odor detectors are highly variable. Much like odor detectors, trained dogs have been used to sniff out termite infested areas within homes. One study that tested trained beagles for their ability to accurately detect termite-infested wood found that they almost never fail to do so, but false positives were common. Despite this, pest control firms have been using trained dogs to pinpoint the location of termite-infested wood since the 1970s. For the most part, however, the use of dogs for pest control purposes is impractical due to the cost of sheltering, feeding and training the animals.

Have you ever taken note of the devices pest control professionals use to detect termite infestations?




Which Termite Species In Louisiana Are Known For Establishing Infestations Within Furniture?

Termites are the most significant insect pests of homes and buildings throughout Louisiana, particularly in New Orleans and other coastal cities where the uniquely destructive and invasive Formosan subterranean termite species is most prevalent. While this exotic termite species may be the most destructive pest of its kind in Louisiana, it is certainly not the only one, as a total of nine termite pest species can be found in the state. Of these nine termite pests, five species are subterranean termites that live in colonies located below the ground, while the other four are drywood termite species that inhabit colonies contained entirely with single wood items located above the ground.

Subterranean termites establish colony nesting sites in moist soil only, and exposure to the dry outside air will cause specimens to rapidly dry up and die. Due to their ground soil habitat, foraging workers from subterranean termite colonies only infest moist substructural wood sources from the ground up. Since drywood termites literally inhabit their food source, they have no need for foraging workers, but just like subterranean termites, drywood termites establish new colonies by means of annual mating swarms.

Mating swarms emerge from existing colonies for a month or two every year, and they are made up of winged reproductive termites known as “alates.” Most alates die before mating, but the very few that survive long enough to mate usually go on to become the queen and king of a new colony. Due to their dependence on moist soil and wood, Subterranean termite alates almost always establish new colonies in soil, but drywood termite alates always establish new colonies in wood items. In other words, foraging workers establish subterranean termite infestations in moist substructural wood, while winged alates establish drywood termite infestations within a variety of either moist or dry wood sources.

Formosan subterranean termites are an exception, as they are the only subterranean termites capable of establishing aerial infestations that are not in contact with moist ground soil. These elevated infestations are contained within carton nests that work well to retain enough moisture to meet the hydration needs of a Formosan subterranean termite colony. Since drywood termites see alates initiate infestations in dry wood sources while airborne, they can infest just about any wood source, including furniture. Drywood and Formosan termite infestations are often found within furniture items shipped to geographic locations well outside of their range. In Louisiana, the drywood termites that are found infesting furniture on occasion include western drywood termites, west Indian powderpost drywood termites, and southeastern drywood termites.

Have you ever owned a furniture item that became infested with drywood or Formosan subterranean termites?



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