Which Termite Species Can Damage Underground Utilities In Louisiana?

While termites inflict billions of dollars in property damage annually in the United States alone, the wood-eating insects are ultimately more beneficial than problematic. Of the 3,000 documented termite species in the world, the majority inhabit tropical regions where they help to preserve forested areas by recycling wood and other forms of plant waste. Termites only need cellulose from plant matter in order to thrive, but this also means that termites will readily eat any material derived from plant matter, such as paper, some fabrics, and of course, lumber. In addition to wood, it has also become well known that termites damage many items that do not contain cellulose. For example, subterranean termites sometimes damage plaster, insulation, plastic, and even copper and zinc. However, termites do not eat non-wood materials; instead, termites use their jaws to eat through non-wood materials in order to access wood. For more than 100 years, termites have been found infesting and damaging wooden utility poles that hold up power lines. After the invasive Formosan subterranean termite arrived in Louisiana several decades ago, these pests began inflicting more serious damage to infrastructure.

The Formosan subterranean termite is widely considered to be the most ravenous and destructive termite species in the world due to the unusually rapid rate at which they consume wood and spread throughout infested homes. According to experts, Formosan termite colonies contain ten times the number of individuals than those found in native subterranean termite colonies, and this is why Formosans are particularly destructive to homes. Despite this reasoning, native subterranean termites are not known for tearing into underground utility cables, but Formosans are. Formosan subterranean termite colonies were first found in the US when colonies were recovered near Houston back in the 1950s, but they did not become widespread in urban areas of New Orleans until the late 1970s and 1980s. By 1993, Formosans had already inflicted more than 400,000 dollars worth of damage to underground phone cables in New Orleans alone. Although Formosans cannot tear into the copper sheathing, they easily break the PVC casing, which invites moisture that eventually causes power failures. A 1993 black out in several hospitals, and a 1998 black out in the French Quarter have been blamed on Formosan subterranean termite damage to underground utility cables. Formosans can also damage PVC pipes below homes, and they have long been known for damaging infrastructure in their native southeast Asia. Today, bait stations are placed around utility lines to prevent further damage.

Have you ever found a non-wood material that had sustained termite damage?


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