If you own property in Louisiana, a termite infestation is always a significant problem. However, an infestation of Formosan termites is worse than an infestation of native termites. It is even more imperative that you hire professional pest control to take care of the problem as soon as you discover it.
The more you know about these termites, the better equipped you will be to defeat them. Here are answers to questions you may have about them.
What Are Formosan Termites?
While there are termite species native to the United States, the Formosan variety is not one of them. They originated in Asia but have been present in the United States since the 1950s.
There is disagreement as to how they got here. Some sources say that they were unwittingly brought by military transports returning from World War II. Others say that wooden shoring timbers brought from the Far East in the mid-'50s were infested. Regardless of how they arrived, they have spread across the Southern U.S. in recycled railroad ties, wood mulch, and packing material that has been transported from place to place.
Today, Formosan termites are found in 14 states, including Louisiana. They span the Southern United States from Florida to California and are also found in Hawaii. They are limited to warm climates because temperatures below 68 degrees Fahrenheit prevent their eggs from hatching.
What Makes Them So Destructive?Formosan termites are an invasive species, which is a nonnative species that has an adverse effect on native species and the environment as a whole. Several specific aspects of this species makes it so harmful.
The queen of a Formosan termite colony can live for up to 20 years. Upon reaching maturity, she can produce between 2,000 and 3,000 eggs every day. As a result of this prodigious breeding, within five years the colony may grow to a million members.
Extensive Property Damage
The average cost of property damage from Formosan termites is $10,000. In the upper range, the costs may be between $40,000 to $60,000. The longer the infestation goes unchecked and the more damage is done, the only way to remedy it may be to demolish the building and rebuild it from scratch. Bear in mind, homeowners insurance policies do not cover damage from termites.
The property damage can extend beyond buildings. While most termite species only eat dead wood, the Formosan termite may attack trees that are still living, gradually killing them by consuming them from the inside out. The hollowed-out tree becomes unstable, especially in conditions of high winds. If it is not removed, it can cause more property damage or injuries by falling onto a building or a person.
Formosan termites are considered subterranean, meaning that they live primarily underground. You may not see evidence of an underground colony, but because they have such large numbers, a single colony can cover a linear acre. They need water, so they can burrow as deeply underground as the water table goes.
However, just because the termites live primarily underground doesn't necessarily mean that they always stay there. If they find everything that they need above ground, including water and a cellulose food source, they may build what is called an aerial colony.
The termites build nests out of a material called carton that consists of soil, fecal material, chewed wood, and saliva. They like to build nests in hidden areas, so you may find an aerial nest made of carton in areas such as crawlspaces, attics, or wall voids.
What Are the Capabilities of Formosan Termites?
The Formosan type of termite is more aggressive than native termite species. While they only eat wood, they have the ability to chew through other materials, such as PVC pipe, if it presents a barrier to them. They can also chew through rubber and even soft metals, compounding the damage they can cause.
However, some of the Formosan termite's capabilities have been exaggerated or misunderstood. For example, it does not secrete acid from its head. Rather, it secretes a sticky substance similar to latex, which helps to protect it from ants and other insect enemies.
Contrary to popular belief, the Formosan termite is not able to chew through concrete. However, it can exploit vulnerabilities in the concrete. For example, termites can get through a crack in the concrete the thickness of a credit card. If the opening is not wide enough, they do have the capability to displace grains of concrete one by one until they can break through.
How Does a Termite Infestation Begin?
A Formosan termite infestation begins the same way as an infestation of native termites. At some point, a mature colony produces a swarm of winged termites, both male and female. The winged termites, called swarmers, have two jobs: First, they mate and then they fly away to found new colonies.
When a female swarmer finds a new nest site, her wings fall off and she lays her eggs and starts building a new colony, of which she becomes the new queen. Swarms occur in the spring and early summer during evening hours, especially just after a rain when the air is humid and the winds are calm.
What Are Signs of a Formosan Termite Infestation?
Outcomes for Formosan termites removal are better when you catch the infestation in the early stages before the insects have a chance to do much damage. You should inspect your property frequently for the following signs.
Termite nests are often located in out-of-the-way places. If they have an aerial nest in your building, you may not be able to find it without removing wall coverings. If it is underground, it may be at a distance from the structure. If you do find a nest, you may be able to recognize it by the carton from which is it made. You can use a screwdriver or an awl to probe the area and confirm whether termites are present.
Damage to Wood or Other Building Materials
Termite damage is often subtle, at least at first. You may notice small pinholes in wood structures or drywall. If you strike a wooden structure with termite damage, it may make a hollow sound.
Don't limit yourself to checking wood for evidence of infestation. Formosan termites can also chew through other building materials without eating them, so check for holes in PVC pipes and other relatively soft structures.
Shelter tubes may be the most obvious sign of a termite infestation and therefore the one that you are most likely to notice first. Termites are vulnerable to conditions of high temperatures and low humidity. To protect themselves as they are traveling back and forth between their food and water sources and their nest, they construct shelter tubes. These are often found along the foundation and look like dried mud.
The shelter tubes may remain even after a previous colony is defunct. To find out if the tube is active, you can break it open to see if there are still termites inside.
Presence of Swarmers
If you find swarmers on your property, it could mean that you have an infestation. However, this is not always the case. If there are many infestations in your neighborhood, you may see up to 100 swarmers in your house during the season when they are active. These relatively few swarmers still have to be dealt with to prevent an infestation. If you see more than a few, it may be a sign of an active infestation on your property.
How Do You Know if the Termites on Your Property Are Formosan?
How can you tell whether the termites on your property are a native or invasive species? Formosan termites differ from other species in some important respects, but to comprehend the difference, you need to understand the different roles in a termite colony.
In any termite nest, there are different types of individuals, each with a specific role to play in the colony:
As implied by the name, the role of the reproductives is to breed and repopulate the colony. Swarmers are a type of reproductive and are more useful for identification purposes because they are found outside the nest. Formosan swarmers are distinguishable by their transparent wings with veins running parallel to one another. The wings also have reddish-gold hairs growing out of them. Reproductives in the colony do not have wings.
Worker termites are responsible for building and maintaining the nest. Formosan workers are nearly indistinguishable from their native counterparts.
Soldier termites are responsible for defending the colony from threats. Formosan soldiers are distinguishable by their large mandibles, tear-drop-shaped head, and the gland on the front of their heads from which they secrete defensive fluid. This type and the swarmers are the most useful for identification.
If you know where the nest is, you can collect termites for testing from there. Otherwise, you can attract swarmers by putting a small container of water mixed with a little dish soap near an outdoor light source and turning off other lights in the vicinity. Once you have a sample, submit it for testing to your county extension office, a university entomology department, or a local exterminator.
How Can You Prevent an Infestation of Formosan Termites?
There are specific things you can do to prevent termites from infesting your property.
Clean Up Your Yard
Termites feed on materials containing cellulose. In addition to wood, this includes cardboard and paper. Remove any dead wood or scraps from your yard so that you do not provide termites with a source of food.
Keep Water Under Control
In addition to food, termites also need a reliable source of water. You can help keep them out of the house by repairing any plumbing leaks. You can also keep them away from your foundations by keeping your gutters clean and well maintained and installing downspouts so that the runoff stays well away from the building. Position sprinklers so that they spray away from the sides of the building.
Turn Off Outdoor Lights
Swarmers are attracted to bright lights. You can avoid attracting them to your building by turning off the outdoor lights at night when they swarm. If this is not possible, replace the white light with a yellow bulb that does not attract insects.
Inspect Foundation for Cracks
Check the foundation and the outside of your building for cracks that could allow termites to get in. Seal up any cracks that you find. Do not assume that a crack is too small or narrow to worry about. Remember, Formosan termites only need a crack the thickness of a credit card to get in.
Cut off Termites' Access to the Building
Any wood that comes in contact with both the foundation and the ground can provide a conduit by which termites could enter your building. Cut off such conduits by preventing any contact between wood and your foundation:
Inspect for Termites
In addition to performing routine inspections of your own for signs of termite infestation, have a professional inspection performed at least once a year.
How Do You Get Rid of Formosan Termites?
If you find Formosan termites on your property, it is not recommended that you try to get rid of them yourself, as you do not have the necessary equipment or most up-to-date chemicals. Instead, you should call a licensed pest control company with technicians who have the necessary expertise.
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I really enjoy researching and writing about pests. The more we know about bugs, the easier it becomes to control them.