Formosan Termites and the NOLA Home Owner: Why They’re a Problem and When You Should be Worried

Formosan Termites and the NOLA Home Owner: Why They’re a Problem and When You Should be Worried

Ah, the good and the bad of living in New Orleans! There’s Mardi Gras and beignets, pothole-strewn streets, fast-talking politicians, the joy of the Saints and the dread of Formosan termite swarm season.
May marks the beginning of this nerve-testing time of year. Formosan subterranean termites are an imported pest from eastern Asia. Like their home-grown counterparts, Formosan subterranean termites do their wood-munching damage year round. However, now is when they announce their presence via swarmers taking flight and flocking to light.

First, a bit of termite biology is in order:

The termite queen can lay thousands of eggs a day
The termite queen can lay thousands of eggs a day

Swarmer termites, known as reproductives or alates, are pale yellow to brownish yellow in color. They use their wings to leave the colony in flight. Upon landing, the swarmers will drop their wings and pair off, with the goal of finding a suitable spot to mate. (The female takes the lead in this process, likely no surprise to readers of nolawoman.com.) It is this conjugal desire that New Orleans property owners want to prevent, since if mating is successful, the queen will begin the egg-laying process. If undisturbed, colony formation will begin (consisting of king, queen, worker, soldier and swarmer termites), and over time the number of termites could reach into the millions. 

There are some misconceptions surrounding swarmer termites, such as:

Swarmer termites do damage.

Formosan workers are the termites that actually do the damage
Formosan workers are the termites that actually do the damage

Only the worker termite eats and digests wood, thus possibly damaging a structure. The sole purpose of the swarmer termite is to reproduce and begin the colony-formation process. Also, swarmers don’t bite, though they can make even the most hardened pest control professional jump up if they take a stroll on, say, your earlobe while you sleep.

Swarmer termites got inside my house. I should start panicking.

Not necessarily. Termites are going to swarm, there is no stopping it. It’s nature taking its course. Especially on particularly heavy “swarm nights” (termites don’t swarm every night during the season, it’s only a handful of times), swarmers will find their way into a structure via open doors or roof/soffit vents. That’s normal, a few in the laundry room, maybe some more in the bathroom, etc. The sign of trouble is hundreds, even thousands, of Formosan swarmers pouring out of one or more exit holes in, say, a living room wall. That’s when it’s time to call a qualified pest control company—immediately.

If left untended, a formosan termite colony can cause catastrophic and costly damage
If left untended, a formosan termite colony can cause catastrophic and costly damage

During the swarming season, which begins as early as late April and ends as late as early July, it is advisable to keep porch lights off and inside lights dimmed for the first few hours after darkness sets in.  Swarmers, like many other insects, are strongly attracted to light.

The Formosan worker termite is responsible for causing the structural damage.  They are more of a challenge to control than their counterpart, the native subterranean termite, largely because 1) they can survive harsher conditions (they need less moisture to sustain themselves than native subterranean worker termites);  2) they forage great distances in search of wood/cellulose (studies in Armstrong Park have shown that termites will forage several hundred yards) and 3) with a mature queen pumping out as many as 1,000 eggs per day, the colony size of Formosan termites can dwarf that of a typical native subterranean termite colony.

So, in the end, it is critical for the New Orleans property owner to do his homework and choose a qualified pest control company to provide the proper termite protection. Ask few questions to the prospective company before hiring them. Important ones are:

Formosan termites can damage trees as well as houses
Formosan termites can damage trees as well as houses

• How long have you been in business? Are you licensed and fully insured?
• What product do you plan to use? If it’s a liquid soil treatment, will you be using a non-repellent or repellent termiticide? Do you know the difference between the two? If you are going to install a termite baiting system, which one? If it isn’t the Sentricon system, why not? Are you not an authorized operator of the Sentricon system?
• Does your company offer a termite damage repair warranty? If so, does my house qualify for such a warranty?  If it doesn’t, why not?

Also, make sure the company’s representative conducts a thorough inspection for the presence of active termites or signs of conditions that could lead to termite infestation. For instance, it’s hard to know if a raised house in New Orleans has termites if the inspector doesn’t get underneath and look.

Don’t worry, the Formosan swarm season won’t last too long. It’ll be over soon enough—just in time for you to start worrying about hurricane season!

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