What are Formosan subterranean termites and where
did they come from?
Formosan termites are a
non-native pest believed to have been brought into the United States
after World War II on military ships carrying supplies from east Asia
and the Pacific Islands. Their main points of entry were New Orleans and
Lake Charles, La.; Galveston and Houston, Texas; and Charleston, S.C.
Where are they found? How many states are
infested with them?
The termites have been found in Alabama, California, Florida,
Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina,
Tennessee, and Texas.
What's the difference between these termites
and other termites?
Formosan termite colonies are much larger (containing about ten
times the number) than native termite colonies. One important difference
is that Formosan termites build more nests above ground. They attack
live oak, ash trees and water-bound live bald cypress trees and are
known to infest more than 50 living plant species. Because of their more
aggressive nature and larger colony size, they are replacing the native
species. When they do invade a home, they inflict more damage because of
their greater numbers. They are also more difficult to control than
native species for a variety of biological reasons. Since they can build
nests above ground, they are able to avoid the traditional toxins that
are placed into the soil for termite control. Also, there are so many
members in a colony that they can find ways to penetrate breaches in
treated soil. They can also begin colonies from above ground if
sufficient moisture, food and a suitable environment exists.
How much damage do they cause homeowners?
Formosan termites cost consumers more than $1 billion a year,
including the cost of repairs. In New Orleans alone, it's estimated that
the pest infests as many as 30 percent of the historic live oak trees
and can cost individual homeowners several thousand dollars a year in
damage and control costs.
How do I know if I have Formosan termites?
The best way to detect this pest is to consult with professional
pest control operators and have annual inspections. A homeowner can help
by maintaining a constant vigil for signs of the termites, including
looking for mud tubes on slabs, foundations or piers. These tubes are a
sure sign of termite presence, but may represent an old infestation.
Tiny holes appearing in walls or ceilings should be examined by a
trained professional to determine whether they are caused by termites or
other wood-destroying insects. While a few alates (flying termites) may
come into a home during swarming season, the appearance of more than a
few termites flying inside the home or deposition of many wings may
indicate an active colony hidden within the walls of a home. Not all
termites are Formosan and it takes a practiced eye to know which termite
is present. Some drywood termite alates look very much like Formosan
alates at first glance. The methods of control of these species are very
different, so accurate identification is essential.
Can I apply my own treatment?
There are some termiticides available from do-it-yourself centers,
but proper application and strict adherence to label directions are
absolutely essential to effective control. Termite galleries (tunnels
through which termites travel) may be 1/32 of an inch in diameter, so
even a tiny area of untreated soil could allow termites to avoid a
"treated" area. Some states have recently allowed do-it-yourself baiting
systems to be sold, but again proper application and strict adherence to
the label instructions are imperative for them to be successful in
Professional pest control operators (PCO) have the experience and
insight needed to help design the most effective treatment program. You
should familiarize yourself with as much information about termites as
possible and talk to several companies to determine all of your options.
Be certain to understand what the operators propose and get bids in
writing so that you can compare the various proposals. There are several
valid options for termite control and you have some time to make
comparisons, but termite infestations will not "just go away." These
termites can dig underground tunnels in untreated soil bypassing treated
soil to invade your home. It takes a trained professional to detect all
possible entryways to your home.
Among the many options you will be presented are fumigation, which
kills termites in the walls of your home, but not ones hiding in the
soil below. Usually, the PCO recommends a soil treatment in combination
with fumigation to prevent the underground termites from invading your
home again. New monitoring and baiting technologies have been developed
and are successful in controlling both native and Formosan subterranean
Can't I just have my house chemically treated
Although you should talk to a professional pest control operator
about treatment, you can still reduce some of the risks of infestation
by reducing or eliminating water sources such as leaky pipes and roofs;
removing any wood and debris in contact with the soil, like wood
trellises connected to homes; replacing damaged sills and floors, and
sealing cracks in concrete and other structural materials. Formosan
termites can eat door frames, window sills, rafters and wall studs.
Many different types of termite treatment exist. Most are designed
to prevent termites from invading your home by repelling them from the
immediate area of treatment. These products are designed to last for a
relatively long period--more than five years--but each will break down
eventually. The products must last at least five years in order to be
registered as a termiticide. Different soils and soil conditions affect
the rate of breakdown. Activities that disturb the soil or addition of
new soil over the treated areas allows termites to tunnel through
A preconstruction treatment regimen and regular inspection are
needed to keep termites at bay. New monitoring/baiting techniques are
designed to work either alone or in conjunction with soil treatments.
These systems use wood blocks that are inspected at regular intervals to
determine termite presence and activity. Only when there is activity are
the blocks replaced with a toxin-treated food source which the termites
eat and share with their nestmates, resulting in severe population
reduction of the colony or even death of the colony. These methods use
much less toxin than soil treatments and represent an aggressive
approach to termite control rather than the protective approach used in
My house is made of brick. Is it protected
against Formosan termites?
Not necessarily. These termites can eat door frames, window sills,
rafters and roofing in addition to the wooden framing behind the brick
of your home. Some new homes have steel framing to prevent structural
damage from the termites, but the termites can eat many items containing
cellulose, including picture frames, furniture and paper. No home is
"termite- proof" unless there is no cellulose within for them to
consume. Some new buildings and homes have suffered from Formosan
How long does it take Formosan termites to
cause severe damage?
It generally takes a few Formosan termites up to 10 years to
establish a large colony. However, if the nest is already large, the
termites can cause devastating damage to homes within a short time. The
biggest problem in this regard is that you often don't know that they
are present until they have already done substantial damage. These are
insects which live in moist dark places and are not apt to show
themselves to you. Protection against infestation is probably the best
Is there a particular place I should look in my
house to find these termites?
Any place where wood is in contact with the soil, like wood
trellises connected to the house; where there's a water source (such as
leaky pipes), like in the basement or behind walls; or where there's
structural damage, like cracks in the concrete or in the floors. Check
the outside of your home for termite trails--mud tubes 1/4- to 1-inch
wide. Look carefully at nearby trees for mud trails which are sometimes
more evident after a rain; check for mud deposited well above ground in
tree branch notches or in branch stubs. These signs could be evidence of
termites lurking in the trees that could also infest your house.
What are flying termites or termite swarms?
These flying members, called alates, are mature termites that fly
off to mate and establish new colonies. The flying Formosan termites are
tan colored, generally swarm at night and shed their wings after a
Is there a certain time of year I should look
Mature Formosan subterranean termites typically swarm in the
evening on warm, humid, windless evenings from the end of April through
June. During the rest of the year, infestations can be detected by
looking for the signs of Formosan termites, including mud tubes and tiny
holes appearing in indoor ceilings and walls.
For more information, contact us at 512-454-7336
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