Bugs Gone Wild

t’s that time of year again when we witness the Daytona Spring Break of the bug world – our Annual Formosan Termite Swarms.

In our area we have two basic flavors of termite – native subterraneans and imported Formosans. Both types swarm, but the natives do it during the day so they are not quite as obvious. Formosans wait until sunset to emerge and then gather around brightly lit areas. Within a few hours of taking flight, the male and female termites pair off, shed their wings and look for a place to set up a home. As hospitable as we are down here, we’d rather it not be ours.

Like some of our other charming imports (fire ants and kudzu come to mind), Formosans are aggressive and built for speed. They nest in a concentrated area as opposed to the natives, who spread out a bit more. This clustering behavior leads to a developed colony in a shorter amount of time – a typical Formosan nest holds around ten times the number of termites as a native colony of the same age. Faster breeding leads to faster chewing. A mature colony can consume up to 13 ounces of wood a day and severely damage a structure within three months.

Another element of Formosan behavior that sets them apart is their construction of above ground nests. Unlike the native subterranean termites, Formosans are amenable to setting up shop in trees (live or dead), boats and buildings. This makes them much harder to track down and eradicate.

Speaking of eradication…. As horrifying as they are, the termites that participate in the swarms are not actually harmful until they land and breed. The key to keeping them at bay is consistent yearly inspections and/or treatments of liquid repellents and baits. Treated wood by itself will not repel termites – they find it unappetizing, but it doesn’t usually keep them from moving on to the cellulose buffet of structural framing. They also must eat a lot of the treated stuff to cause any significant damage to the colony.

Termite wannabes…In that funny way that nature has of imitating itself, there is a local species of winged ant that will begin swarming soon that closely resembles subterranean termites. The ants usually swarm during the day and collect near areas of water such as swimming pools. If you have good eyes (or a magnifying glass) you can tell the ants apart from the termites by their body shape and wings. The ants have three distinct body sections (a head and two segments) – termites only have two ( a head and tubular body). Both insects have two sets of wings, but the ants’ upper wings are significantly longer than the bottom. Termites’ wings are all the same length.

If you’d like more insight into the Termite Mind, the LSU AgCenter has excellent information, pictures and publication cards on their website.

So keep your home inspected and treated and remember – this too shall pass. And then it will be hurricane season.

This blog was written for Paul LaGrange’s BuildWrite website and was originally posted on May 15, 2009.

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