Louisiana homeowners should prepare for upcoming termite swarms

Olivia McClure  |  4/24/2019 2:06:14 PM

(04/24/19) BATON ROUGE, La. — With Formosan subterranean termites’ annual swarming season approaching, an LSU AgCenter entomologist is advising Louisiana homeowners to take steps to lower the risk of damage from the insects.

When the termites come out of their colonies, they search for wood and moisture to found new colonies. They swarm at dusk, often near lights.

“The peak swarming season is from May to June, with a big peak around Mother’s Day,” said AgCenter entomologist Karen Sun. “But it is not unusual to see early swarms or late swarms. Sometimes you can see them as early as late April and as late as July.”

A swarm indicates a nearby infestation of termites. Sun said people who notice swarming termites should have a pest control professional inspect their home and trees. The infestation could be on a neighbor’s property — but it’s important to be proactive, Sun said.

“This is actually the most destructive and costly termite in the world, and Louisiana is one of the worst affected areas,” she said. “Compared with the native subterranean termites, Formosans have very large colonies and very aggressive soldiers, and they are more tolerant to high temperature and readily feed on a diverse range of wood types.”

Formosan subterranean termites are an invasive species that came to the continental United States from Asia shortly after World War II via wood on cargo ships. Their colonies grow slowly at first, but eventually become huge and can survive for decades.

“Over the years, the queen can become very large and lay thousands or tens of thousands of eggs per day,” Sun said.

Louisiana was one of the first places in the U.S. where Formosan subterranean termites established colonies. That, along with the state’s heat and humidity, is why they are such a big problem in Louisiana, Sun said.

Formosan subterranean termites are estimated to cause $1 billion in damage in the United States annually, she said. Half of that — $500 million — is in Louisiana, especially in the New Orleans area.

In addition to scheduling a professional pest inspection, homeowners can help ward off potential damage by limiting termites’ food and water sources. Sun suggests repairing outdoor faucets that leak and avoiding using wood mulch in landscapes.

Because termites are attracted to light, turning off outdoor lights also can keep swarm activity at bay, Sun said.

Sun, who joined the AgCenter in 2018, studies termites in her lab, where the insects crawl on wood shavings inside containers stored in a large incubator. She collected termites in her neighborhood during last year’s swarm — her first in Louisiana.

“To me, it’s a spectacular biological phenomenon, but I totally understand why it’s unpleasant to residents,” she said. “We are here to help manage this pest through research and extension.”

Karen Sun and incubator.JPG thumbnail

LSU AgCenter entomologist Karen Sun examines a colony of termites inside a container kept in an incubator in her lab. Photo by Olivia McClure/LSU AgCenter

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