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Department of Entomology
Insect Notes
Formosan Termites in North Carolina
Insect Note - ENT/rsc-40

formosan termite  soldierThe Formosan subterranean termite (FST), Coptotermes formosanus Shiraki, is considered to be one of the most destructive termite species in the world today. This species is not native to North Carolina (or to the United States). International commerce has been largely responsible for its spread from its native range in southern China to Taiwan (formerly called Formosa from which it gets its common name) and to Japan. Within the last 100 years it has become established in South Africa, Hawaii and parts of the continental United States. It is commonly believed that the Formosan subterranean termite was accidentally transported to port cities along the Gulf of Mexico and southeast Atlantic coast by ships returning from the Pacific at the end of World War II. The first record of the termite's appearance in the continental U.S. was at Charleston, SC in 1957. About eight years later, it was discovered in a shipyard in Houston, Texas and colonies were subsequently found in Galveston, TX, and New Orleans, LA. Currently, Formosan termites are found in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. An isolated population was found near San Diego, CA in 1992.

termite damaged treeThe Formosan subterranean termite has been called the "Super Termite" because of the its ability to consume wood and increase its colony size much quicker than our native termite species. The queen can live for 15 years and can produce about 2,000 eggs a day. The workers collect food and maintain the nest while the soldiers (image shown above) defend the colony. They can live 3-5 years. As a result, a single colony can contain well over one million termites and cover an area over 300 feet. A mature colony will produce a new group of "alates" or swarmers (winged kings and queens) which are darker in color than workers. Formosan termites usually swarm at dusk from April through June. FST swarmers can be distinguished from our native termite species by their size and wing characteristics. The soldiers (show in image above) have a distinct oval or egg-shaped head compared to the rectangular head on soldiers of our native subterranean species.

These termites have a tremendous appetite and will use any new food sources as long as there is a water source nearby. Like other termites, they will consume almost any item containing cellulose including the wood in buildings along with paper products and even live trees (see image above), crops and plants. Formosan termites can penetrate gaps in plaster, plastic and asphalt to reach a new food source. The termites may chew through these materials. However, contrary to popular belief, they do not "dissolve" these materials.

According to some estimates, Formosan subterranean termites costs consumers more than $1 billion a year, including the cost of repairs. In New Orleans alone, it's estimated that the pest infests as many as 30 percent of the trees and can cost individual homeowners several thousand dollars a year in damage and control costs.

Where are Formosan Termites in North Carolina?

damaged cross tieFormosan subterranean termites were first found in 1992 along the coast of North Carolina down at Holden Beach in Brunswick county. The termites were infesting railroad cross ties that were being used for landscaping around a house. The cross ties were subsequently removed and transported to a landfill. No additional infestations have been found in that area. In 1994, FST swarmers were found in a residence in the town of Spindale (Rutherford County) in western NC. Two years later, swarmers were found in another building nearby. Subsequent inspections and surveys uncovered at least 17 localized infestation sites primarily in railroad cross ties (image at right). A control program is currently underway on public property. CLICK HERE for a description of the program.

What should I do to protect my home from Formosan Subterranean Termites?

If you don't have a termite protection contract, then have your home inspected by a local pest management professional (you can look in your local Yellow Pages under "Pest Control"). If your home is not infested with termites (Formosan or our native species), you don't need a treatment. However, as a very general statement - houses that are less than 20 years old and have not been treated within about the last 10 years are more likely to become infested with termites at some point in time simply because the chemical barrier in the soil has diminished beyond the point of stopping termites. Even houses that were built in the 1970s or early 1980s and were treated with chlordane at that time quite likely have little if any effective chemical barrier around them. The choice is still yours as to the need for any additional chemical control measures.

Additional sources of information:

Image of Formosan subterranean termite soldier - S. Bauer, USDA-ARS

Wood Pest Page Insect Notes