The Formosan contains the largest number of termite pests per colony than any other termite species worldwide, and the Formosan subterranean termite, Coptotermes formosanus, is the most widely distributed and most economically important. The Formosan subterranean termite (FST) acquired its name because it was first described in Taiwan in the early 1900s, but C. formosanus is probably endemic to southern China. This destructive species was apparently transported to Japan prior to the 1600s and to Hawaii in the late 1800’s (Su and Tamashiro 1987). By the1950s, it was reported in South Africa and Sri Lanka. During the 1960’s it was found in Texas, Louisiana, and South Carolina. In 1980, a well-established colony was thriving in a condominium in Hallandale, Florida. A single colony of FST may contain several million termites (versus several hundred thousand termites for native subterranean termite species) that forage up to 300 ft in soil. Because of its population size and foraging range, the presence of FST colonies poses serious threats to nearby structures. Once established, FST has never been eradicated from an area
As of 2004, the distribution of FST in the United States includes Alabama, California (an isolated infestation in San Diego County), Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas and is quite common in the Pensacola Florida Area.
The FST was first reported in Florida in early 1980s in Hallandale, Broward County. But it was probably introduced there at least five to 10 years previously. By 1985, it was found in Orlando (Orange County) and the Pensacola (Escambia County) area. In 1991, well-established infestations were discovered in Tampa, Hillsborough County. In 1996, FST was doscovered in North Palm Beach (Palm Beach County). Additional infestations were confirmed in Jensen Beach (Martin County) in 1998, Jupiter (Palm Beach County) and Crystal River (Citrus County) in 1999, Tallahassee (Leon County) in 2000, and Florida City (Dade County) in 2002. In the past two years, the number of new FST establishment sites has increased drastically; namely Trinity (Pasco County), Ocala (Marion County), Marco Island (Collier County), Bonita Springs (Lee County) and Debary (Volusia County) in 2003, and Jacksonville (Duval County), Miami (Dade County), Cape Coral (Lee County), and Interlacheon (Putnam County) in 2004. In urban southeastern Florida where the FST was first found, its distribution has expanded to include much of the coastal areas of Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties.
As its name indicates, the Formosan subterranean termite is a subterranean termite species characterized by large populations that share interconnected foraging galleries in soil. When these termites invade a house above-ground, foraging tubes of ca. 0.25 to 0.5 inch diameter may be found connecting soil tubes and the infested house.
As with other termite species, colonies of FST contain three primary castes: the reproductives (e.g. king, queen, alates or swarmers, and immature alates or nymphs), soldiers, and workers. The majority of the nestmates are workers that are responsible for acquisition of nutrients, i.e. cellulose in wood. Alates and soldiers are most useful for identification (Scheffrahn and Su 1994).
Alates of FST are yellowish-brown and 12 to 15 mm long (0.5 to 0.6 inch). There are numerous small hairs on the wings of these comparatively large swarmers. Dispersal flights or “swarms” are massive and begin at dusk on calm and humid evenings from April to July. Alates are attracted to lights, so they are usually found near windows, light fixtures, window sills, and spider webs around well lighted areas.
A single individual of the FST does not consume more wood than a single native subterranean termite, however, because of its large population size, a FST colony can cause more structural damage in a shorter time. Wood products that are infested by FST may be recognized by tapping the wood with a hard object. In severe infestations, FST hollows out woods leaving a paper-thin surface. A hollowed wood surface may look blistered or peeled.
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