Formosan termites on the move: Houston

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Formosan termites in tub drain

Each year, Formosan termites are found in new locations across the southern U.S. Discover the history and impact of this non-native species in the Houston area.

Houston, Texas, is a divided city. To the north of the city’s center, the native eastern subterranean termite is the most common species to infest homes and cause costly damage. To the south of the city’s center, Formosan subterranean termites are becoming more common.

This invasive species isn’t new to the area. Formosan termites have been documented in southeastern Texas since 1956. It is believed they were introduced in railroad ties shipped through the Port of Houston. Formosan termites can now be found in 31 counties across the state.

Certified Sentricon Specialists® Eric Melass, Killum Pest Control, and Jeremy Logsdon, Preventive Pest Control, have watched Formosans move farther inland each year.

“Now, it’s almost as common to run into Formosan termites as it is our native eastern subs,” Melass says.

Melass first encountered a Formosan colony about 15 to 20 years ago inside railroad ties at a rail yard in Clute, Texas. While Logsdon first saw Formosan termites in southeastern Houston about eight years ago.

“We started seeing a few, then a few more, mainly in the coastal areas. And then every year after, they move farther inland,” Logsdon says.

Formosan termites are especially concerning because of the extensive damage they cause in a short time due to their large colony sizes.

“The damage isn’t different; it just happens faster than the eastern subs,” Melass says.

The rail yard where Melass first found Formosan termites was an existing customer, so he knew the extensive damage the colony had caused had happened in a matter of months. But, it’s more than the colony size that makes these termites unique.

Formosan termites are also found to infest and consume live, healthy trees. From oaks to palms, Formosan termites will eat and hollow out over 30 species of trees, severely compromising the plant’s structural integrity and making it susceptible to breakage. This can be especially problematic and create additional liability in a hurricane-affected region.

Aerial colonies more common with Formosan termites

Formosan termites are especially good at exploiting any moisture source to establish an aerial colony, which can become problematic when liquid termiticides are used as a treatment.

“Their ability to create these sub-colonies – these aerial colonies – where if you cut them off at the ground with a liquid treatment, they’re just going to make a colony in the wall is significant,” Melass says. “The fact that the swarmers can live so dang gone long once they’ve swarmed is alarming.”

When aerial colonies aren’t detected, liquid treatments can worsen the situation for homeowners.

“We’ve come in many times to situations where an aerial carton wasn’t detected, a liquid perimeter treatment was made, and that treatment has literally trapped termites in a home,” Logsdon says.

Logsdon will never forget one southeast Houston home he treated. A year after another pest control company completed liquid and foam treatments, a second-floor bathroom transformed into a homeowner’s nightmare of mass Formosan termite swarmers.

“What they’d done was lock those termites in an upstairs bathroom,” he says.

Logsdon and his team installed Recruit® AG stations before shutting and sealing the door to prevent swarming termites from spreading to other areas of the home. In-ground bait stations were also installed around the home to prevent future termite damage.

“Because it was such a heavy and established population, we came out twice a week,” Logsdon says.

Logsdon admits the bi-weekly visits weren’t standard, he personally made the visits as a courtesy and because his curiosity was piqued. He wanted to see just how many swarmers were in the bathroom each visit and to see how long they would swarm.

“I would vacuum up the termites with a hand vac each visit, and the volume of termites was incredible for about three weeks! It took about five weeks for them to quit swarming altogether,” he says.

Proper identification is key for effective Formosan termite treatments

When Formosan termites are found in an area, proper identification becomes even more critical to ensure you know what you are treating because liquid treatments are much less effective on Formosan termites.

Melass recalls a time when his company still offered liquid treatments in addition to the Sentricon® system. A technician hadn’t properly identified the termite, and the customer was given the choice of a liquid treatment or the Sentricon system.

“The customer chose the liquid treatment and called us a month later saying the swarmers weren’t gone,” he says. “We, of course, made it right and installed Sentricon.

“Well, she had sent the termite to Texas A&M to be identified. She called them for the results, and they told her it was Formosan termites and that if she had done a liquid treatment, it wasn’t going to work and that she needed to use Sentricon.”

Melass says that had the technician identified it was Formosan termites, the service protocol would have required him to use the Sentricon system to safeguard the home and ensure total colony elimination.

Formosan termite education a necessity for homeowners

Unless they’ve dealt with a Formosan termite infestation already, many Houston homeowners are unaware of the growing threat in their backyard. Melass and Logsdon see a rising need for more homeowner education to help them understand the importance of protecting their homes against this damaging termite species.

When Formosan termites are found, they also find it’s essential to have the right tools on-hand to solve the problem and provide peace of mind to the homeowner.

“Customers see termites coming through the walls or swarming around lights, and they get understandably anxious,” Logsdon says. “We’ll get them set up with the Recruit® AG stations on the spot. We want the termites feeding on that bait right away because once they start eating, it’s just a matter of time before the colony is eliminated.”

Formosan termites present a unique set of challenges, but they are still no match for the Sentricon® system, which is why it’s the standalone solution for any subterranean termite situation. Whether you’re installing Recruit® AG FlexPack® bait stations to target aerial Formosan termite colonies or in-ground stations to combat hard-to-treat and impossible-to-see underground termite colonies, the results remain the same: total colony elimination.

Check out images and video shared by Melass and Logsdon of some of the worst Formosan termite infestations they’ve encountered in recent years.

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