Coptotermes formosanus, commonly referred to as the Formosan subterranean termite, is an invasive species native to China. The termite species was inadvertently introduced to the United States following World War II in the late 1940s. American troops packed up supplies in Tokyo Bay using crates from Chinese wood, and they were completely unbeknownst to the fact that these crates were infested and overrun by the Formosan termite. Upon arrival in the United States, the crates were discarded carelessly in the trash, allowing the troops of termites to easily infiltrate southern states’ homes and buildings.
This species of termite found its ultimate feeding sites in Louisianan homes by the 1960s, where the local climate perfectly accommodates the termites’ preference for hot, humid weather. C. formosanus thrives specifically in New Orleans for two reasons: the sticky weather is comparable to its native China’s climate, as well as its unique capability to nest both below ground (where termites typically congregate) and above ground in trees. By nesting in trees, the termites remove themselves from the immediate threat of insecticides in the subbasements of houses, while termite exterminators are unable to exactly locate a termite nest’s exact headquarters because they could easily be an any tree within a block of the infested house.
Claudia Riegel and her team of experts have been struggling to eradicate this invasive species from the United States—a goal that Riegel knows is a long-shot and nearly impossible to achieve. First, her team is simply looking to control the termite infestation in New Orleans by attempting to control and manipulate the termites’ path of movement. Because it’s difficult to pinpoint the home nest of a termite mass, Riegel hopes to essentially intercept their trail of destruction by routinely checking the bait stations that are posted across the city for new infestations. When the team finds termites in a station, they remove the wood bait and deposit chemicals that the termites will carry back to the nest. In as little as three months, that Formosan colony’s nest could be poisoned and destroyed.
Because Riegel avoided biocontrol, or introducing a second non-native species to attempt to eradicate the termites, New Orleans will not have to worry about the negative effects a second species may have on the city and its native creatures. The team’s simple, methodical approach is primarily focused on the idea of containment, and then eventually future eradication. Her approach is commendable because it’s noninvasive to the people of New Orleans, as well as sustainable because these bait stations could easily be used for decades to come. Although containment measures have been in effect for years to reduce the populations of Formosan termites, the problem is hardly close to being solved. New Orleans residents reported sightings of the termites, despite the unusually cold 2009-2010 winter season, which apparently only delayed the termites’ annual summer appearance by about two weeks.