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Formosan Termites In Savannah

Here in Savannah, people often ask me about Formosan termites. They have either read or heard about this nasty, aggressive termite and are concerned that their homes might be attacked at some point. So, I wanted to shed some light on the subject and try to answer a few of the most often asked questions.

Formosan termites are an invasive species in North America.

They are originally from regions in China, and were named after the island of Formosa, which is the former name of Taiwan. The termites are believed to have entered the US via port cities such as New Orleans shortly after World War II. Here in Georgia, the Formosan is believed to have been transported into the state via infested railroad ties and landscaping materials.

Formosans are a particularly aggressive species of termite. They are a subterranean species, which means that they prefer to remain beneath the ground. Unlike native subterranean termites, however, the Formosan termite will sometimes create above ground shelters known as cartons inside the wooden structures of homes.

According to Dr. Brian Forschler, a professor of entomology at UGA, these cartons provide Formosans with the moisture they would otherwise need from the soil, which means that the Formosan termites “survive longer in the building” than a native species. In such cases, Formosans are able to bypass liquid treatment barriers around the home because the treatment products that would stop native subterranean termites in their tracks is only effective when termites are accessing the home from the soil.

Super Termites

Along with the advantage of above ground shelters, Formosans are sometimes described as “super termites” due to their rapid rate of wood consumption and unusually large colony sizes. While the average nests of most native species contain hundreds of thousands of termites, the Formosan nests can contain millions of termites and spread out over a large area. While not all colonies grow to a large size, a mature Formosan colony can quickly cause major damage to a home.

Identifying Formosan termites can be difficult without proper training.

Like most termites, Formosan nests contain three distinct castes of termite: the worker, the soldiers, and the swarmers. Termite workers are the only caste that feeds directly on cellulosic, or wood based, materials. Unfortunately, according to Terry W. Bowen, BCE who is a Board Certified Urban and Industrial Entomologist and CEO of Bowen Consulting Enterprises and has over 35 years of industry experience, the Formosan workers are difficult to differentiate from the workers of native species. However, the soldiers and swarmers of the species are very unique and are a good way to confirm Formosan activity.

Swarmers are the reproductive members of the termite colony. They become kings and queens of future termite colonies. At certain times of the year, swarmers will leave their nests and gather into large groups to mate and create new colonies. These “swarms” for which they get their name occur at particular times of the day depending on the species. According to Dr. Dan Suiter, another faculty member of the entomology department at UGA, the Formosan swarmers “Usually start swarming in late May, and they swarm at night.” This is much later than the native species, which can swarm as early as February here in Savannah.

Formosan swarmers are dull-yellow or golden-brown in color. They grow to around 1/2 inch in length, and are known to gather in enormous swarms. According to Mr. Bowen, these swarms can sometimes be so massive that they block out street lights in areas of high activity such as New Orleans.

Formosans have an infamous reputation.

It is only natural that homeowners would be concerned about the possibility of Formosan activity on their property. Fortunately, the Formosan termite poses little or no threat to most homeowners here in Georgia due to their spotty distribution in the state. According to both Dr. Forschler and Dr. Suiter, the Formosan termite is very rare in Georgia, and only about 50 sites of activity have been found throughout the state.

While Formosan termites could spread in the future, they are unlikely to ever become a major problem for Georgia homeowners unless spread by human activity. According to Dr. Suiter, the range of Formosan activity spreads by only around 1km per decade, which means that they will not be a major issue any time soon.

The conclusion that homeowners can take away is that, unless you live in an area that has identified Formosan activity, you should not be concerned with the possibility of a Formosan infestation. In Savannah, the majority of termite infestations are caused by native species, and these are much more likely to cause problems for homeowners.

We often receive questions from homeowners asking how to best keep their homes safe from termites.

The truth is, if termites of any species are able to establish a colony close to your home, they can cause a great deal of damage while remaining undetected, often feeding on areas that are inaccessible to the homeowner. Even after they are identified, it can still take time to remove the problem, and all the while they will be causing damage to the home that can be costly to repair.
Due to this, the best way to prevent termite damage to your home is to take preventive measures to keep termites from infesting in the first place. Homeowners should seriously consider looking into preventive treatment options, as prevention is often cheaper than paying to remove an active infestation and repair damage left behind.