Formosan termites are a non-native pest brought into the United States after World War II on military ships carrying supplies from east Asia and the Pacific Islands.
Formosan termite colonies are much larger 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. Since they can build nests above ground they are able to avoid toxins placed in 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.
Formosan termites cost consumers over $1 billion a year, including the cost of repairs. In New Orleans alone, it’s estimated that the pest infests as much as 30% of the historic live oak trees and can cost individual homeowners several thousand dollars a year in damage and control costs.
The best way to detect them is to consult with professional pest control operators and have inspections. A homeowner can help by regularly checking for signs of them by looking for mud tubes on slabs, foundations, and piers. These tubes are a sure sign of termite presence but can also 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 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.
There are some termiticides available from do-it-yourself centers, but proper application and strict adherence to label directions are essential for 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 termite control. 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 termites.
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 untreated soil.
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 the past.
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.
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 approach.
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.
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.