The main woodworkers in the South these days are extremely unhelpful. They cripple floors and break up beams. They undermine the foundations of houses and buildings. They are a detriment to infrastructure. They are also termites. The southern United States, in particular the city of New Orleans, has been suffering from termite infestations for the larger part of a half century. New Orleans has been ravaged by these tiny insects, but one thing about them makes them quite interesting. These southern termites are most likely invaders.
According to Claudia Riegel, these termites came over to the United States about fifty years ago from half a world away. When US soldiers prepared to pull out of Asian territories, the crates they used to carry cargo were probably infested with Formosan termites, as National Geographic’s Strange Days on Planet Earth series reports. For those forces arriving home in New Orleans, the boxes brought on shore and subsequently thrown in trash heaps on military bases were the perfect vector to transport the termites to a perfect new home. The hot, sticky climate in New Orleans is very similar to the termites’ native land in China. Plus, on arrival there was an abundance of wood, the termite food supply. Eating their way through houses and floorboards, termites cost the United States over $1 billion annually. The aggressive invaders have taken over cities of the South.
Unfortunately, Claudia Riegel‘s efforts to combat the termite issue have reached the point of just containment. The termite infestation has spread so quickly and vigorously that eradication of the termite population in New Orleans is probably out of the question. Instead, Riegel has focused her time and energy on finding ways to prevent further spread of these insect monsters. By establishing a sensor network over known termite supply lines, she monitors their location and is able to poison the supply lines leading back to the nests, which are much more difficult to locate. This helps keep termite populations in check, a feat increasingly difficult because of the termites’ ability to nest above as well as below ground.
Riegel has taken an interesting approach to the termite problem. Her use of bait stations around the city of New Orleans was a creative idea in my opinion. Using these devices she is able to simultaneously keep track of the termites as well as fight them. Using poisoned paper that the termites could carry back to their nests seemed like it would be quite an effective idea. However, I feel that there must be some way in which the termites could be more than just contained, and could in fact be eradicated. Perhaps introduction of some sort of virus or disease that only affects these termites would do the trick? Research of Formosan termites in Asia could provide some answers about the background from which these termites came and what methods could be used against them. Although after a period of fifty years of successful invasion, can we really even call the termites of New Orleans Formosan? At this point, many, many generations of termites must have come and gone. They might be able to be viewed as their own species of a sort.
Finally, I do question the current state of the city. With this video being a few years old, produced pre-Katrina, I wonder how the situation has changed. Did Hurricane Katrina aid the fight against the termites in New Orleans? Or did Katrina exacerbate the problem by destroying so many homes, which could have provided even more food for the invaders? I would be very interested to know what Claudia Riegel is up to now.