Formosans in the Felicianas

Andre' Brock  |  8/28/2009 7:19:33 PM

formosan soldiers

The Formosan subterranean termite is an imported pest that has been present in Louisiana at least since the 1950s. Until recently, it had been mostly a concern in the New Orleans area and in parishes south of Interstates 10 and 12. But in the spring and summer  of 2009, Formosan subterranean termite specimens were confirmed to be present in both East and West Feliciana parishes.
 
The Formosan termite was accidentally introduced to the United States shortly after World War II when the termites arrived aboard military shipping equipment that included wood. The imported pest quickly established itself in port cities like Mobile and New Orleans. As of now, $300 million of Louisiana’s estimated $1 billion annual termite damage still occurs in New Orleans. But the invaders are spreading. The Formosan subterranean termite has been found as far away as North Carolina and Washington state.
 
The Formosan termite has spread nearly statewide in Louisiana mainly through the transport of infested materials. The New Orleans Mosquito and Termite Control Board, in conjunction with the United State Department of Agriculture, is conducting a statewide survey. Specimens have been identified in about half of Louisiana parishes and as far north as Monroe, La. The termite can infest lumber, landscaping materials, mulch, potted plants and even old railroad ties and telephone poles. It is important to carefully inspect any materials being moved and to have your home inspected.
 
Formosan subterranean termites can be differentiated from our native termites in several ways. One difference is that the Formosan termites are much more aggressive. They have proven to quickly out-compete our less-aggressive native termites, thereby dominating an area. Their nests can be ten times as large as native nests, so a large amount of damage in a short time is often a cause for concern. When disturbed, Formosan termites also are more aggressive toward the intruder to their colony.
 
Physiological differences exist, as well. Formosan subterranean termites have more teardrop-shaped heads than termites native to Louisiana. Their alate (winged reproductive) form, seen when swarming in spring, also has hairier wings than natives. Ultimately, positive identification should be done by a professional. If you suspect Formosan termites, please contact your pest control operator or the LSU AgCenter/Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service.
 
Treatments for native termites are often ineffective against Formosans. The Formosan termites are not affected by most chemicals used as part of termite-protection contracts. They also do not have to return to the ground for water like natives do, bypassing a common insecticide strategy.
 
It is important that we know specifically what pest we are dealing with to be able to apply appropriate control measures. The specimens found in the Felicianas were alates, indicating well-established colonies at least five years old. The pest is here. Now we need to exercise every measure in controlling it.
 
For more information, feel free to contact LSU AgCenter assistant county agent André Brock, or stop by or call the West Feliciana Extension Service office at 635-3614.
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