True or False?

Termites from a particularly voracious strain, their little pinchers salivating at the prospect of dining on your home, are hitching rides in cheap brands of Gulf Coast mulch delivered to the shelves of popular big box home improvement outlets in your neighborhood.

What's more, the Gulf States, anxious to rid the area of hurricane debris, are shipping infected mulch out of state.


It's another one of those bogus emailed missives making the rounds, buoyed by the fears of the uninformed. Too often among the uninformed are professionals, whose word is often respected as fact, but who are much too quick with the forward-email trigger finger when they should know better.

Add to the list of "urban legends" a Formosan termite scare that is costing government agencies and others time and money spent putting down unsubstantiated rumors. The scare comes at a critical time when attention shouldn't be diverted from the very real perils in the recovering Gulf Coast region.

"The email is not accurate and doesn't even mention the quarantines this department put in place last fall to keep Formosan termites from spreading," said commissioner of Louisiana's Agriculture and Forestry Department, Bob Odom in the latest official statement designed to quash the unfounded story.

"The Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry issued quarantines following the 2005 hurricanes for woody debris in Cameron, Calcasieu, Jefferson, Jefferson Davis, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. John, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa and Washington parishes. Woody debris cannot be moved out of these areas without first submitting a plan for treatment to the department," he added.

"I've had my people out looking into these claims to make sure there are no violations of the quarantine. I've also had our invasive pest expert contact the stores mentioned in the email and we've yet to find any validity to the claims in the email," Odom said.

He added that the Internet is being used to spread hysteria about a nonexistent problem and advised that anyone who truly knows of quarantine violations should report it to the department at (225) 925-3763, via email, or by other methods available on the department's website.

It's true that vegetative and other debris is being mulched throughout the Gulf Coast region following the hurricanes of 2005, but only under strict governmental controls including the quarantines and long time programs like the Formosan Termite Initiative which Louisiana and the region has conducted for years to guard against the spread of an insect that likes second, third and fourth helpings of cellulose.

The efforts are one of the many reasons rebuilding can't commence as quickly as some may wish.

The quarantine specifically says, "The movement of any wood or cellulose material from the named parishes is prohibited unless either (1) such wood or cellulose material has been fumigated or otherwise treated for Formosan termites and is approved for movement by the Commissioner or his designee(s), or (2) the Commissioner or his designee(s) gives written authorizations for untreated wood or cellulose material to be moved from the named parishes."

It's also true Formosan termites, inadvertently transported from China to the Gulf Region by military surplus pickups following World War II, are bigger eaters than termites considered native to the United States.

Formosan termites can devour a six-foot section of a two-by-four in a month. Native termites would take "three to four times as long," to munch the section into termite pellets, said Alan L. Morgan, associate professor in the Entomology Department at Louisiana State University's Agricultural Center in Baton Rouge, which offers a host of factual, researched and documented information about the buggers.

Morgan also said in addition to having bigger appetites, Formosans create larger colonies and are more tenacious than native cellulose crunchers.

"They have the ability to get into live trees and establish colonies there. That's the problem with the mulch. Trees are blown down and they are chipping them to get rid of them. Native termites are never found in trees," Morgan said.

But he was quick to point out exterminating Formosans requires the same chemicals and methods used to terminate native termites.

"It's more aggressive control, but the methods are the same," the professor said, unaware of any accurate reports that infested mulch left the region.

"I don't think a large company distributing mulch is going to basically break the law and go against the quarantine. I just don't see this being a big problem, unless someone is going to break the law," Morgan said.

It's easy to dispel the Formosan termite ruse, and others like it -- with the same technology typically used to spread them in this Information Age.

First, if it appears too awful to be true, it probably is.

Instead of hitting the forward button on questionable email, pull a Google.

A "Formosan termites" Google puts the Ag Center's online termite information center at the top of the list of links, followed by information from websites that expose hoaxes, "urban legends" and rumors designed to dupe.

Log in to comment