Formosan Termites and You
We've got a problem. Formosan Subterranean termites are here and they're eating everything in
You know about termites, well these bugs are different. They are a major threat to buildings as well
as ornamental and shade trees. Now here is the really bad news, they can be in your house and you
might not even know it until the damage is severe.
Termites are related to another darkness loving destructive insect, the cockroach. But nothing a
roach can do comes close to the damage that these termites carry out once they get into a wooden
structure. They can eat the untreated center of creosote treated timbers but not the treated wood
itself. They can even eat telephone poles, paper, and live plants. They can gnaw through plaster and
even plastic to get to a food supply or water source.
Formosan Subterranean termites have quietly spread from points of introduction to establish huge
colonies in the entire southern sphere of states as well as in Hawaii. One way new infestations start
is by the transportation of infested wood such as landscape timber. So home owners should make
sure landscape timbers, such as used rail road ties, are not infested.
These termites have no known natural enemies in North America. Traditional treatments for native
termite control have not been fully successful in battling the Formosan Subterranean termite and
they can cause a home to crumble before you know they are there.
Fortunately, USDA's Agricultural Research Service and other researchers are working to improve
existing procedures and developing new ones to combat these home wreckers.
Some effective treatments for Formosan termites are available now through local pest control
companies. Critical elements for most home owners are early detection and quick action. Finding
them is actually the hardest part.
The first sign for most people is a swarm which can involve hundreds to thousands of individuals
from a single colony. Formosan termites usually swarm around dusk on a warm spring evening.
Swarms inside the structure are a good indication the structure is infested. Some members of the
colony mature, developing the ability to reproduce and at the same time wings to fly away and start
a new nest in a new location. They stream out of an opening and fly a short distance, drop their
wings and pair off and look for a new home. All they need is wood and moisture. Swarms can
happen outdoors or indoors. Unfortunately a swarm means that the colony is already well
Other signs of termites are masses of discarded wings usually around a window or door or under a
light where they congregate. A few wings or termites are not necessarily a sign of infestation. They
probably came inside through an open door or small crack but numerous wings or termites may
indicate that you have a problem.
Formosan termites eat wood but they usually live in the ground digging tunnels to get to their food
and water. They have to stay under cover to hide and to keep from drying out. To get to food
supplies, that is your house, they can build mud tubes across foundations or other barriers even
chemical barriers. Termites in tubes connected to your building indicate the need for pest control.
Of course, another way to detect termites in your home is to find signs of damage. The most
common locations are around doors and sills or wherever wood comes in contact with, or is close to,
soil. Wood that is in constant darkness or exposed to constant moisture is especially vulnerable. If
you see these traces or find any damage, get a professional inspection.
If you live in Formosan termite territory it's a good idea to get an inspection annually or even more
often. If you do have termites don't delay, get rid of them using one of several EPA registered
treatments. They won't just go away by themselves.
An insecticide soil treatment creates a barrier to keep the insects from moving from their nest in the
soil into your house to feed on wood. This barrier must have absolutely no breaks otherwise it's
If you do any foundation or landscaping work that might disrupt the barrier, a pest control operator
should be called. The barrier is broken even if mulch is spread across the barrier, the treatment must
be repeated immediately. These chemical barriers may not stop termites that have already found a
source of moisture inside your house. They may just isolate the colony within the house where it
may live if it has a source of water.
Another treatment, chemical fumigation can be expensive and inconvenient but it does wipe out
termites in your house. The downside is that it doesn't kill the bugs in the soil nearby, fumigation
also leaves no residue so they can be back in a matter of a few days unless the barrier is applied.
Barriers and spot treatments don't target the termite nests. Newer approaches, baiting and
non-repellant barriers, can.
Here you see one of several monitoring baiting products available. These monitoring tubes are
placed where termites seem to be active. If any termites attack the sample wood strips, the wood is
replaced with poison treated bait. The termites carry the bait back to the nest. These new baits and
barriers are slow acting chemicals that eventually kills the termites over a few weeks or months then
it's time to repair the damage. Make sure you use wood treated to resistant termites for any new
construction. These treatments are safe and effective when they are applied and monitored
correctly. That means a pest control professional should do the job. Even if you don't have termites,
yet, you might discover some conditions around your property that do invite them in. Naturally
you'll want to remove covering shrubs next to the foundation. Damaged or rotting trees or shrubs
even if they are a hundred yards away can harbor termites that can attack your house.
Get rid of any stumps or dead roots in your yard and make sure there is no wood or construction
debris buried or stored on the ground any where near your home. These bugs need moisture so make
sure you roof is tight, your gutters are clear and in good repair and you have no leaks or drips that
result in wet wood or constantly moist soil.
Finally make sure that any overhanging branches are trimmed back away from your roof. Formosan
termites can build a nest at the top of a five story tall tree. Some special construction techniques can
also make your home less inviting to termites. For new construction pre-treat the soil around the
foundation to provide a continuous barrier, make sure the land slopes away from the house to
remove moisture. Always keep wood away from water in bathrooms, for example, or utility rooms.
Some grades of sand and a new stainless steel mesh appear to be a good barrier to termites.
Even if you do everything right though you still haven't won the war because they can show up
again at any time even after a treatment. This means that you must never stop monitoring for tubes,
swarms or signs of damage. Annual professional inspections are useful for prevention and if your
property has been treated for termites using in ground bait, continue to use the monitoring tubes to
catch a new colony before it does real harm.
Coptotermes formosanus, they're here and we have to get used to it. We can't eliminate these bugs
from North America they are too well established, too covert and far too numerous. But, we can
slow them down and we can definitely cut down on the economic losses if home owners only join
the war. You have everything to lose if you don't.