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New Breed of Termite Moves Into Mississippi
By Rebekah Ray
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- A new species of termites is munching its way across the coastal South and Mississippi State University scientists have joined forces with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service and several other coastal states to take aim at this intruder.
"Formosan termites have been found as far as 70 miles inland in Mississippi. They have been detected from eastern Texas to South Carolina and Hawaii, and are profuse in the French Quarter in New Orleans where a 15-block area is being treated by Louisiana State University and USDA," said Dr. David Veal, head of the Coastal Research and Extension Center on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Other states with Formosan subterranean termites, Coptotermes formosanus, infestations are doing similar research, but MSU is also exploring how Formosans may be moving into forests and other wooded areas.
The MSU investigation team has spent the past year studying the insect in South Mississippi. Heading up the state's investigations is USDA ARS-Stoneville entomologist Dr. Janine Powell. MSU post-doctoral research associate Changlu Wang is working with her.
Formosans are considered one of the most destructive and aggressive termites in the world, causing about $1 billion annually in damage and control measures in more than a dozen Sunbelt states.
Native to Mainland China, it is believed that Formosans were imported into Taiwan (formerly known as Formosa). First discovered in the United States in 1965, Formosans are thought to have stowed away in wooden packing crates sent home from the Orient after World War II. The termites entered this country through ports along the Gulf of Mexico and Charleston, S.C. These crates and pallets probably were used for building materials or ended up in landfills to be buried under dirt, a haven for subterranean termites.
"Even though Formosans feed voraciously, they are slow to increase in numbers. We've just begun to see the damage they're causing. That's another problem with this pest -- you're not likely to notice them until it's too late," Veal said.
Formosan are like native termites since both can live underground, but the new invaders also create nests in buildings by constructing cartons which allow them to tap into water sources like leaking pipes or air conditioning ducts.
"At night during mating seasons, swarms of Formosans leave to set up new colonies. In New Orleans, some evening ballgames have had to be cancelled because of the great number of termites hovering under the lights," Veal said.
After establishing a colony, Formosans are extremely destructive and consume wood faster than other subterranean termites. Since Formosans are weak fliers, they do not spread rapidly on their own, but are transported through infested soils or materials such as lumber, wooden crates and railroad ties.
In addition to infesting wooden structures, Formosans have been found attacking 47 species of plants, including trees such as citrus, avocado, wild cherry, cherry laurel, ligustrum, hackberry, cedar, willow, tallow, wax myrtle, sweet gum, mimosa, cypress, red bud, Chinese elm and oak, as well as sugar cane and pine stumps.
"They have attacked creosote poles in Hawaii. Not much is immune to them, and they find the most minute cracks to get through to the underlying wood," Veal said. "They have been known to pass through cement, lead, asphalt, plaster, mortar, rubber, brick, plastic, Styrofoam and even PVC pipes to find food sources."
Because the best way to overpower these destructive little creatures is through a community effort, MSU has joined other coastal states to research how Formosans are impacting Mississippi and to develop ways to hinder that destruction.
"We're evaluating Formosans in four areas, including surveying and consulting with local exterminators, identifying tree hosts through remote sensing, developing techniques to stop their infestation of houses and buildings, and evaluating various baits and treatment protocols in housing developments," Veal said.
"We've studied both native and Formosan termites for many years, but still don't know or understand much about either. By working with area states and USDA ARS, we are trying to learn all we can about Coptotermes formosanus so Mississippians can better handle the little foe," Veal said.
Contact: Dr. David Veal, (228) 388-4710