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Program for management of the invasive Formosan subterranean termite in the French Quarter, New Orleans, Louisiana

Dennis R. Ring, Alan Morgan, Frank S. Guillot, Alan R. Lax and Charles McCown

A very destructive invasive species, the Formosan subterranean termite (FST), Coptotermes formosanus Shiraki (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae), was first discovered in Louisiana in 1966 (Spink 1967). Specimens of this termite were identified from Lake Charles, Louisiana, in 1966 and from New Orleans in 1967 (Spink 1967). Taiwan is the native home of the Formosan subterranean termite (Li et al., 2009). This termite is thought to have been brought and introduced to the continental United States after World War II from Asia in infested material (Su and Tamashiro 1987). The original introduction sites were Charleston, South Carolina; Galveston, Texas; Lake Charles, Louisiana, and New Orleans, Louisiana.

This termite has been considered the most important structural pest of the new millennium (Hunter 2000). It is now found in 11 states (Woodson, et al., 2001) and continues to expand its range (Brown, et al., 2007; Gold, 2008; Messenger, et al., 2002; Sun, et al., 2007; Hu & Oi, 2004; Scheffrahn & Su, 2005). It is more aggressive than native subterranean termites, and colonies may be greater in numbers reaching millions of termites. The Formosan subterranean termite builds above-ground carton nests and eats the centers of live trees. These characteristics contribute to the destructive potential of this invasive pest. Damage by the Formosan subterranean termite has resulted in costly demolition and rebuilding of structures, collapse of structures, defaults on loans, and severe economic losses in addition to routine repairs and treatment of structures. Hundreds of millions of dollars in losses per year have been attributed to the Formosan subterranean termite. Su and Scheffrahn (1990) estimated losses at over $1 billion per year. Lax and Wiltz (2010) reported on the need for area-wide integrated pest management of Formosan subterranean termites. Although their study was conducted at a location other than the French Quarter, it further corroborated the need for area-wide management of this insect.

Spink (1967) reported two entry points for the Formosan subterranean termite in the New Orleans area: the Algiers area across the Mississippi River from the French Quarter and near Camp Leroy Johnson on Lake Pontchartrain. Once the Formosan subterranean termite was introduced to the New Orleans area, it expanded its range, and the numbers of termites increased. The problem coincidentally increased in the French Quarter, including historical buildings (Henderson, 2001; Spink, 1967).

Formosan subterranean termites became a tremendous problem in New Orleans, and one of the worst problems occurred in the French Quarter (Ed Bordes, personal communication). Formosan subterranean termites became a tourist attraction. Management of Formosan subterranean termites became so difficult that some pest management companies stopped treating for termites. The New Orleans Mosquito and Termite Control Board received 20-30 calls about swarming termites per swarm season from people in the Upper Pontalba Apartments near Jackson Square. One person reported sleeping in a pup tent inside his structure during swarm season to prevent termite alates from falling on him at night and waking him up (Ed Bordes, personal communication). Buildings in the French Quarter experienced structural damage on an ongoing basis resulting in a continuous cycle of damage and repair. The situation appeared rather bleak. In response to this problem, an area-wide management program was begun in the French Quarter (Guillot et al, 2005, 2010; Lax et al, 2007; Ring et al., 2001) with an objective of reducing the numbers of Formosan subterranean termites and potential for damage. Area-wide management involves integrated pest management applied over a geographical area. This federally funded area-wide program is a partnership among the LSU AgCenter, the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, the New Orleans Mosquito and Termite Control Board, area pest management professionals and the Audubon Nature Institute. Herein, we report on progress of the French Quarter Program in managing this invasive scourge.

In 1998, the program began with the treatment of an initial 15-block area of the French Quarter. The strategy utilized in the program was to reduce damage caused by the Formosan subterranean termite by decreasing the numbers of termites in the treatment area through population management, eliminating colonies and reducing termite pressure. Treatments by pest control companies included non-repellent liquid termiticides and baits. The remaining area of the French Quarter outside of the treated area was monitored in order to provide a comparison to the treated area. Monitoring methods included sticky traps strategically placed on light poles within 2 meters of all corners in the French Quarter. These traps collected swarming reproductive alates and helped determine the annual alate numbers in the area. A second monitoring method was the use of in-ground monitoring stations. These stations, which were used to monitor termite foraging activity, were placed in contact with the soil in holes drilled through the sidewalks. Twelve stations were placed at regular intervals around each block in the initial 15-block area of the program, and 44 additional stations were placed in the French Quarter outside of the test area. In January 2002, this was supplemented with an additional 300 stations placed within the French Quarter outside of the test area. Stations were checked monthly, and the presence or absence of termites was recorded. The treated area was expanded each year in 2002, 2003, 2006 and 2007. Inspections were also conducted on properties in the test areas. Aimed at determining the presence of Formosan subterranean termites, the inspections of these properties consisted of visual inspections and the use of infrared cameras. A pest management professional was contacted to treat any infestations located during the inspections.

Data collected showed that area-wide management reduced termite numbers and activity in the initial 15-block area by 75%. A 50% reduction in the number of alates was also observed in other areas of the test within two years after treatment. In addition, a 50% reduction in the number of in-ground monitoring stations with termites was observed in the initial 15-block area. A similar 50% reduction in the number of in-ground stations with termites was observed in other areas after treatment. In 2003, about 23% of the properties in the initial test area were found to be infested with termites. This percentage declined in each subsequent year, but increased in 2007 and decreased to zero in 2008. Declines in the percentage of properties found to be infested with termites were observed in other areas after treatment. The New Orleans Mosquito and Termite Control Board currently receives less than one call about swarming termites per swarm season from people in the Upper Pontalba Apartments (Ed Bordes, personal communication). This further showed that the program has reduced the numbers of termites in the French Quarter. Visual inspections of trees and courtyards on these properties are being conducted in order to detect any termite infestations outside of the structures. Infested trees were treated by pest management professionals, and termites were not found infesting treated trees in subsequent inspections.

Results of the French Quarter program have shown a reduction in the numbers of Formosan subterranean termites using area-wide integrated pest management. Reductions have been seen in the numbers of alates captured, percentages of in ground stations with termites, infestations in trees and numbers of swarms in buildings. Some isolated areas still exhibit high termite activity. These areas are being examined for termites through intensive inspections of structures and trees. Continued inspections, treatments and evaluations are needed to further reduce the numbers of Formosan subterranean termites.

The emphasis of the program has been on killing termites and management of termites throughout the landscape rather than simply applying insecticide barriers around structures. The program has shown that area-wide management may be successful in reducing the numbers of Formosan subterranean termites. This program should be transferred to and adopted by other neighborhoods and cities. Effective management of this invasive species will be most successful utilizing area-wide integrated pest management programs incorporating knowledge gained from the French Quarter program.

References Cited

Bordes, E. Director Emeritus New Orleans Mosquito and Termite Control Board. 2010. Personal Communication.

Brown, K.S., B.P. Yokum, C. Riegel and M. Carroll 2007. New parish records of Coptotermes formosanus (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae) in Louisiana. Florida Entomologist. 90(3): 570-572.

Guillot, F. S., D. R. Ring, A. R. Lax, A. Morgan, K. Brown, C. Riegel & D. Boykin. 2010. Area-Wide Management of the Formosan Subterranean Termite, Coptotermes formosanus Shiraki (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae), in the New Orleans French Quarter. Sociobiology 55: 311-338.

Guillot, F.S., D.R. Ring, A.R. Lax and D. Boykin 2005. Impact of area-wide management on alate densities of the Formosan subterranean termite (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae) in New Orleans’ French Quarter, U.S.A, pp. 171-178. In C.-Y. Lee and W.H. Robinson (eds.), Proceedings: 5th International Conference on Urban Pests, Perniagaan Ph’ng, Malaysia, P&Y Design Network, Penang, Malaysia.

Henderson, G. 2001. Practical consideration of the Formosan subterranean termite in Louisiana: A 50-year-old problem. Sociobiology 37(2)281-292.

Hu, X. P. and F. Oi 2004. Distribution and establishment of the Formosan subterranean termite (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae) in Alabama. Sociobiology 44(1): 35-47.

Hunter, M. D. 2000. Some Challenges Facing Entomology in the Next Millennium," Bulletin of the Royal Entomological Society in London. 24:3-11.

Lax, A.R. and B.A. Wiltz. 2010. Swarming of the Formosan Subterranean Termite (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae) in Southern Mississippi. Midsouth Entomologist. 3: 18–25.

Lax, A.R., F.S. Guillot and D.R. Ring 2007. Area-wide management of the Formosan subterranean termite Coptotermes formosanus in New Orleans’ French Quarter. In M.J.B. Vreysen, A.S. Robinson and J Hendricks (eds.), Area-wide control of insect pests: from research to field implementation. Joint FAO/IAEA Program of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture, Springer

Li, H-F., W. YE, N.-Y. Su, N. Kanzaki 2009. Phylogeography of Coptotermes gestroi and Coptotermes formosansus (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae) in Taiwan. Annals of Entomology Society of America 102(4): 684-693.

Messenger, M., N-Y. Su, and R.H. Scheffrahn 2002. Current distribution of Formosan subterranean termite and other termite species (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae) in Louisiana. Florida Entomologist 5: 580-587.

Ring, D.R., A.L. Morgan, W.D. Woodson, A.R. Lax, X.P. Hu, E.D. Freytag and L. Mao 2001. The first two years of an area wide management program for the Formosan subterranean termite (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae) in the French Quarter, New Orleans, Louisiana. Sociobiology 37(2): 293-300.

Scheffrahn, R. H. and N.-Y. Su. 2005. Distribution of the termite genus Coptotermes (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae) in Florida. Florida Entomologist. 88(2): 201-203.

SPINK, W. T. 1967. The Formosan subterranean termite in Louisiana. Circular No. 89, Louisiana Agricultural Experiment Station, Baton Rouge. 12 pp.

Su, N.-Y., and R.H. Scheffrahn. 1990. Economically important termites in the United States and their control. Sociobiology 17: 77–94.

SU, N.-Y., AND M. TAMASHIRO. 1987. An overview of the Formosan subterranean termite in the world; pp. 3-15 in M. Tamashiro and N.-Y. Su [eds.], Biology and control of the Formosan subterranean termite. College of Trop. Agr. Human Resources, Univ. of Hawaii, Honolulu, HI.

Sun, J-Z., M.E. Lockwood, J.L. Etheridge, J. Carroll, C.Z. Hollomon, C.E.H. Coker and P.R. Knight 2007. Distribution of Formosan subterranean termite (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae) in Mississippi. J. Economic Entomology 100(4): 1400-1408.

Woodson, W.D., B.A. Wiltz and A.R. Lax 2001. Current distribution of the Formosan subterranean termite (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae) in the United States. Sociobiology 37(3B): 661-671.


Invaluable assistance in carrying out the program, preparing visuals, and managing data was provided by the following individuals and institutions.

LSU Agricultural Center: Rose Broggi, Chris Morel, Chris Dunnaway and Rita Riggio.

New Orleans Mosquito and Termite Control Board: Ed Freytag, Barry Yokum, Perry Ponseti, Berry Lyons, Carrie Owens and Jamie Ward.

USDA-ARS: Pedro Levy, Ryan Solhjoo, Chris Florane, Ronnika Allen, and Elena Khoutorova.

Appreciation is expressed to pest management professionals for treating properties and cooperating in the program. Appreciation is also expressed to property owners, tenants, and property managers for allowing inspections and treatment of properties in the French Quarter.

Last Updated: 9/10/2012 1:31:01 PM
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