The Formosan subterranean termite (Coptotermes formosanus) is one of the most destructive insects in the world. A single colony can consist of several million individuals and forage within a 100 meter range, consuming up to 400 grams of wood per day. While this is not necessarily a problem in the wild, it can become a pressing issue if the termites’ daily meals consist of wood from human structures.
This problem is especially prevalent in New Orleans’ French Quarters. The termites are thought to have arrived after World War Two, when returning troops shipped items back in boxes made out of wood from local trees in Japan and China. The termites became noticable around 1960 and now, according to the USDA, New Orleans houses one of the largest Formosan Termite infestations in the country. Most species cannot proliferate in a new environment, but the termites are successful because the climate in New Orleans is hot and humid, similar to its native habitats on the other side of the world. In addition, its natural predators do not exist in New Orleans and the old, wooden buildings provide an ample supply of food.
The termites can cause devastating damage to buildings in mere months, and they show no respect for historic buildings or important structures such as the pump stations that keep the Gulf of Mexico from flooding the city.
Currently, scientists are trying to keep the termites at bay by setting up bait stations and poisoning the colonies. There are also chemicals that are being used which stop the growth cycles of the termites. However, scientists do not believe that chemical agents are the only effective method of countering the pests, and there are investigations into introducing organisms that naturally attack the termite.
In 1998, congress authorized $5 million to be put toward funding erradication methods, and more has been spent since then. The termites are estimated to cause $1 billion in property damage yearly, causing the fight to erradicate them to become known as “the second battle of New Orleans.”
The methods employed by officials seem sustainable, but does not appear to successfully get rid of the termite once it has established itself in a community. Since they are from halfway around the world, much more research needs to be conducted on the termites in the United States. It would also be interesting to know about the effects of Hurricane Katrina on the termites.