The Formosan termite is a subterranean termite native to the Far East. It was first discovered in the United States in a Houston, Texas, shipyard in 1965 and has since spread to a number of southern coastal and Gulf states. All indications are that Formosan termites might eventually establish nests in some northern states as long as the temperature and moisture conditions are satisfactory.
An established Formosan termite colony, which can have more than a million termites, is extremely destructive. They can destroy wood six times faster than our native species. Formosan termites have been known to penetrate lead, plastic, rubber, mortar, and plaster to get to their food-wood. They are able to penetrate the above materials by secreting an acid substance from their frontal glands. In at least one recorded case, they have caused short circuits by damaging electric cables.
Identifying the worker Formosan termite is difficult because there are no obvious characteristics distinguishing them from our native species. However, in the latter colony, only 2 percent of the population are soldiers; whereas with the Formosan’s, 25 percent are soldiers. As a result, if an active Formosan termite shelter tube is broken or an infested section of framing is examined, many more soldiers would be visible than if it was from our native species.
Native subterranean termites ordinarily have a ground connection and live partly in ground and partly in wood. However, the Formosan termite can live without a ground connection if there is a suitably located constant source of moisture. This characteristic is what makes the control of Formosan termites so difficult. For example, because of a plumbing leak, the termites might have a nest in an exterior wall. Consequently, chemical treatment of the soil around the house, which is the control procedure for native subterranean termites, will not exterminate the termites in the wall. Fumigation is needed.
Since the location of a termite nest is normally not known-it can be in the ground or in a wall-to control an infestation, it would be necessary to treat the soil around the house chemically and fumigate. With a single detached building, this combination of control procedures is possible; however, in urban areas with row houses and attached structures, fumigation is not a viable procedure. Unfortunately for these buildings, the condition cannot be corrected.