Invasive Insects (part 2)

By Chris Williams on February 13, 2013.

When last we spoke, I said that next time I’d take a look at other invasive insect pests. Since my livelihood as an entomologist revolves around the ‘structural pest’ control industry, easily the most important invasive insect pest is the Formosan termite (Coptotermes formosanus). This highly destructive termite species has large colonies, and consumes wood at a very rapid rate. They are thought to have arrived in the US as stowaways amongst packing material aboard returning supply ships during the waning days of WWII (Pacific theater).

The termites initially were not recognized as an invasive species for nearly twenty years, (mid 1960’s) but after it’s proper identification in South Carolina, populations were later discovered in several gulf coast states. In all, the Formosan termite is found in ten southern states. Fortunately for us in New England, cold seasonal temperatures are a limiting factor preventing survival, and limiting their northward migration to the southern part of Virginia.

Long before Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, residents there had been battling Formosan termites to the tune of an estimated 300million dollars in property damage, repairs and control costs annually. In all, up to a billion dollars worth of property damage and related costs per year had been attributed to Formosan termites in the southern states where it’s established. Severe damage caused by Formosan termites in certain historical districts within the city of New Orleans was so alarming as to cause Congress to fund emergency action (late 1990’s) in an all out effort to help combat the insect. Much valuable knowledge about the species behavior and ways to successfully manage Formosan termites were gained in this cooperative research project between several government agencies and universities.

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