Jack Ryan: Termite protection mode | Opinion


The Formosan termites were a few weeks late this year. Maybe they waited to get both doses of the Covid-19 vaccine before swarming around the street lights for a couple of hours each night?

Usually they start crawling and flying around in the first half of May. When they didn’t show up on time, I hoped the week-long February freeze killed many of them.

Apparently it just slowed them down a bit. Last Saturday night we found some of the tiny animals in our house, especially in bathtubs because they are always looking for damp areas.

I looked up the termites in a previous column, and they landed on McComb in 2014. They may have been here before, but then they started to hold their own.

I vividly remember one night when Mrs. Ryan, who is quite averse, was appalled by the number of light brown insects on our ceilings, in our bathtubs, or frolicking around sinks. I spent a lot of time corralling them.

We believed that they would get to the attic from the vents in the soffit, the horizontal area that connects the roof to the frame of the house. Then they moved down through lights to different rooms.

The next year, 2015, Mary Ann was ready. According to a column I wrote earlier that year, our son Thomas, who lived in Mississippi state after graduating, had taped it over all the vents with a black garden towel. Poor kid – no wonder he quickly moved to the Jackson area for a job.

Eventually we found that the best defense was to turn off most of the lights for a couple of hours each night. This apparently keeps the termites, who are outside from sundown until about 10 p.m., from taking refuge in your home.

Mary Ann was out of town two weeks ago, and I looked for the termites while she was gone but didn’t see any. At the end of our driveway is a street lamp that the beetles just love. So it is easy to see when they are active.

Until last Saturday everything was fine, which caught us off guard. So we went into defense mode on Sunday night. If our children are ever at home doing this, they will mock us mercilessly.

When the sun goes down we close all the blinds and turn off all the lights except one in the cave and one above the computer in the hallway. We close all of the bedroom doors so that nothing comes out of these two lights. Then we just watch TV or doze off until 10 p.m.

It pretty much works – even on Thursday night when the crush by the street light was the heaviest of the year. We’ll find no more than two or three termites in the house each night. Stubborn little boogers.

You probably have a week of swarming left, but every year I wonder how much this puts our home at risk of wood damage. And it is always a mystery to me that these very small insects have such a good reputation as destroyers. They don’t look nearly as scary as the pictures of termites I see online.

Also, I thought termites like darkness. What are all these bugs doing, flying around street lights and crawling in bathtubs?

There are generally three types of termites in a colony. About 90% of them are workers who look for food and build underground tunnels.

Some of the others are soldiers. They respond when the colony is attacked by fire ants or other predators and repair broken tunnels.

The rest are called reproductive and are responsible for mating. One group of the reproductive organs has wings and they are the hawmers. These are the people who are drawn to the street lights for a couple of weeks each year.

We found about two winged termites in our home this year. But most of them don’t. They just tend to wander around aimlessly until I shred them with a paper towel.

The Formosan termites have been in this area for eight years, so one day it would be wise to have the house inspected. I don’t think a colony is using my home as a buffet – if they were we would see a lot more of them and some of their damage would show. But you never know

I know one thing: I’m looking forward to the end of Defense Mode.