Urban entomologist Karen Sun of the LSU AgCenter says that right now, subterranean termites are swarming from Formosa and expanding their colonies across the region.
The swarming season for this destructive pest begins as early as April and lasts through June, peaking in early to mid-May around Mother’s Day.
“The subterranean Formosan termite is an invasive species and the most destructive structural pest in Louisiana,” she said.
They were introduced to the continental United States from their home range in East Asia after World War II via military cargo ships.
In Louisiana, this insect was first reported in the port cities of Lake Charles and New Orleans and has now spread to 42 of the 64 communities.
“Subterranean termites nest underground and tunnel into the ground to forage for cellulosic materials as food sources, such as dead or live trees, lumber, cardboard and paper,” she said. “Formosan subterranean termites pose a greater threat than native species because they form larger colonies, are more aggressive, and build cardboard nests above ground.”
A subterranean Formosan termite colony can have millions of individuals and can do more damage in less time than native termites.
At this time of year, termite colonies produce “swarmers,” which are winged adults that fly out of the nest to find mates and sites for new colonies.
After a short flight and wing shed, a pair — a female and a male — walk in tandem, looking for a suitable nesting site with moisture and food.
They mate in their newly dug nest chamber, produce offspring that develop into workers and soldiers, and become queen and king.
Sun said that in most cases the hawk moths simply die unless they find the right environment to burrow through and build a nest.
“Unlike the native Louisiana subterranean termites, which swarm during the day, Formosa’s subterranean termites fly at dusk and prefer warm, humid, and windless evenings,” she said. “Their hawk moths are yellowish-brown in color and are attracted to lights.”
Formosans swarm in such numbers, and thousands of termites can hover around a street lamp.
These swarmers do no harm, but if you don’t take a few precautions, they can be the start of termite problems.
“When you see moths, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have termites in your home, but it does mean they are in your neighborhood,” Sun said. “To keep them out of your home, you need to eliminate all water sources like leaking pipes and also eliminate food sources like mulch that comes in contact with the foundation.”
Another thing residents can do during swarming season is turn off outside lights. Even dimming the indoor lights helps as termites are attracted to the light.
“The underground termite Formosa is the most expensive in the world, and Louisiana is one of the worst-hit states,” Sun said. “These termites love subtropical areas, so they really thrive here.”
Sun said termite hawk moths can be a nuisance when they fly in large numbers. But killing the hawk moths in or around the home does not protect against further termite activity and damage.
“Protecting your home from termites begins with an inspection by a pest controller, followed by appropriate treatment depending on the situation,” she said.
Because underground termites need cellulose and moisture to survive, homeowners can help ward off potential damage by restricting the termites’ food and water sources. Here are some steps you can take to protect your home:
— Turn off outdoor lights at night in May and June to avoid attracting hawk moths.
— Remove all wood, cardboard, and other cellulosic materials from around or under your home.
– Keep mulch 8 to 12 inches away from the foundation or perimeter of your home.
— Fix dripping outside faucets and repair leaks in the roof or pipes.
— Tilt the landscape so that the water drains away from the house.
— Use only licensed and certified pest control professionals for termite treatments.
“When termite swarms occur, you can collect some of the insects or their wings so they can be identified by a pest control service or an entomologist,” Sun said.
These specimens may be submitted to the LSU AgCenter Department of Entomology or an LSU AgCenter community office. Contact Sun at email@example.com for more information.