LSU AgCenter says invasive termites have totally different senses for various social ranks; warns about “swarmers” | Information


The termite season is in full swing on the Gulf Coast.

The Department of Entomology at AgCollege has researched the social caste system of Formosa’s underground termites and how they use chemicals to communicate with one another.

Assistant professor of entomology Qian “Karen” Sun said termites are a social being and are therefore divided into castes in each colony: a queen and a king, soldiers and workers. The majority in a colony are workers and cause the greatest damage.

Sun also said that these termites’ peripheral and central nervous systems are different from those of humans. She said workers and soldiers are blind so they have to use chemicals to interact with each other. They said they use their antennas to sense their surroundings because they have a very small brain to process information.

“We want to understand how termites communicate with each other and also recognize the environment chemically,” said Sun. “And how they react behaviorally to the social and external environment.”

Sun said her department is studying how antennae on termites in different boxes interact chemically. Workers seek and gather food, soldiers defend the colony, and the king and queen mate and reproduce.

“What we’ve been doing over the past few years is logically characterize their antennas,” said Sun.

Termites have different body parts with which they perceive their surroundings: the antennae and the sensilla. She said her department’s studies compare antennas and sensils in different boxes and how they respond differently to chemicals.

These termites are native to Southeast Asia and were brought to the United States during World War II. Today they are common in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, and Tennessee and the Carolinas.

Sun said the Formosa underground termites are “a very destructive, structural pest.” She said it cost around $ 1 billion in damage in the U.S., half of it in Louisiana. They usually nest and tunnel in the ground looking for cellulosic food sources like trees and lumber.

“We don’t think they’re good for the environment,” said Sun. “It’s an invasive species and our environment was fine before this species was introduced here. After they were introduced here, many problems were caused. “

Formosa underground termites are more destructive than native termite species, according to an AgCenter article. Formosan underground termite colonies are larger because they can have millions of termites in one colony, are more aggressive and can make their way above ground.

The peak of the termite season begins around Mother’s Day and lasts until late June or early July. Many people at this time can be affected by “swarmers” in which winged termites fly out of their nests to mate and establish new colonies.

Unlike the native Louisiana species that fly during the day, the Formosa underground termites like twilight conditions. They’re most common when it’s warm, humid, and windless. People affected by the termites should limit their sources of light, food, and water to avoid swarms, according to the AgCenter article.