Be wary of Formosan termites during post-hurricane reconstruction, experts say
Property owners, construction companies and contractors should be wary of Formosan termites during post-Hurricane Ike reconstruction in Galveston and nearby coastal areas, urban entomologists say.
The voracious pests should be destroyed in infested buildings before reconstruction, said Dr. Robert Puckett, an assistant research scientist with the Center for Urban and Structural Entomology at Texas A&M University in College Station.
Contractors and government agencies should be sure debris piles are free of the pests before removal, as a state quarantine prohibits transporting infested materials from one county to another, Puckett said.
To be safe, Puckett said, residents, property owners and contractors should hire state-licensed pest control professionals to inspect for the pests and treat the area to get rid of them if necessary.
"Proper identification of termites is of utmost importance," he said.
Builders should also consider using pressure-treated wood or steel in reconstruction to stifle the insects. Pressure-treated wood is more resistant to termites than surface-treated wood.
"The populations have been festering since the storm," Puckett said. "So we wanted to make people aware of the pests and offer suggestions on how to handle them."
Puckett and Chris Keefer, a research associate at the center, traveled to Galveston recently to inspect hurricane damage and infested buildings. Some pest control companies reported up to 25 percent of their business involved Formosan termites, said Puckett, who is also doing research for Texas AgriLife Research and the Texas AgriLife Extension Service.
Termites are always a source of concern, the researchers said. But the Formosan species is perhaps the worst Texans have to contend with.
"These termites don't discriminate," Keefer said. "They attack homes, trees, buildings, etc."
Their presence raises concerns because they destroy more wood than common termites, Puckett said. The state's most common species, the Eastern subterranean, lives in colonies that number in the hundreds of thousands and would eat only a section of a wooden beam before moving on. Formosans, which number in the millions, would hollow the beam out completely.
Unlike the common termite, Formosans often build "aerial" nests which means they can move around without coming in contact with the ground, Puckett said. The typical "mud tubing" on walls that indicate the termites' presence may not be seen.
They also attack live trees, creating hazards around homes and other buildings, he said.
"You're left with a hollow cylinder before you know that the Formosans are there," he said. "The next thing you know, trees will begin falling on houses and businesses.
"Formosans are much more voracious," Puckett said.
The Formosan is an Asian species that was transported to the U.S. aboard trade ships, according to AgriLife Extension literature on the insect. They were first reported in Houston in 1956. They are named after Formosa, the former name of the island of Taiwan.
The termites are most often spread by railroad ties used to support backyard walls and as borders in landscaping, Puckett said. They have been found in 29 Texas counties and every large metropolitan area. The insects have also been found in nine other states with temperate climates.
"Formosan termites have a long association with structures in the region affected by Hurricane Ike," he said. "Thus, this an excellent time to initiate control of this species in earnest."