Mother's Day is prime time to spot swarming termites

Johnny Morgan, Henderson, Gregg, Ring, Dennis R.

News Release Distributed 05/11/12

Although Formosan subterranean termites can cause problems anytime during the year, Mother’s Day is a major time when alates, or winged termites, are most active.

The swarm is when winged termites congregate under lights at night and is the termites’ way of finding a mate and establishing new colonies, according to LSU AgCenter entomologist Gregg Henderson.

“These alates that emerge from numerous colony nests in the ground, trees or homes around Mother’s Day every year can shut down outside evening events between April and end of June,” Henderson said.

What happens during the swarm season is that a number of termites change from being a worker to a winged termite, he said.

Between one and 10 percent of a termite colony will develop wings. “It happens over a two-month period during a normal year,” Henderson said. “It starts around May 1 and peaks around Mother’s Day, then through the end of June.”

But this year in Baton Rouge, the swarm actually has been seen about a week earlier.

Henderson said the Formosan subterranean termites originated in China and are believed to have entered Louisiana and other Southern coastal states in wooden crates returning from the Pacific Rim during and after World War II.

These termites normally don’t move very far from their home area but are normally moved by human activity.

“They have moved north from New Orleans and Lake Charles and now have been found in all parishes south of I-10 and I-12 as well as in north Louisiana,” he said.

Henderson and other scientists have been light-trapping in Baton Rouge over the past three years and have seen a continual increase in their numbers.

New Orleans is known to have the highest populations in the continental United States, with Lake Charles being a close second.

Management of the Formosan subterranean termites became so difficult in the French Quarter in the 1990s that some pest management companies stopped treating for termites.

In response to this problem, an areawide integrated pest management program called Operation Full Stop was begun in the French Quarter in 1998 with a goal to reduce the numbers of Formosan subterranean termites, Henderson said.

Its focus was a community-based plan using a management strategy to reduce the densities of Formosan subterranean termites. The program was a cooperative effort involving the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the New Orleans Mosquito and Termite Control Board.

On April 15, 2011, Congress eliminated federal funding for the program, and the LSU AgCenter is now seeking funds to continue the research and extension program.

During the research project in New Orleans, residents and property owners saw a steady decline in termite numbers, but Henderson predicts that in about seven years the numbers will have reached pre-treatment levels again.

Three major types of termites cause problems in Louisiana: the dry wood termite, native subterranean termites and Formosan subterranean termites, with the Formosans being the most destructive, LSU AgCenter entomologist Dennis Ring said.

These termites are estimated to cause more than $1 billion damage in Louisiana every year – more than $300 million in New Orleans alone, Ring said.

Henderson said there are ways homeowners can control the termites, but the No.1 course of action is prevention.

“Just because the termites are not swarming, doesn’t mean they are not around,” he said. “They are continuing to eat and do property damage year-round.”

Louisiana homeowners can learn more about Formosan subterranean termites by visiting the Environment and Natural Resources section of the LSU AgCenter’s website and clicking on the Insects and Relatives link.

Johnny Morgan

5/11/2012 8:31:26 PM
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