- Scientific name: Coptotermes formosanus
- Size: ½ an inch
- Color: Creamy white to grayish with tan to dark brown heads and darker mandibles.
- Shape: Long, rounded bodies with either soft, rounded heads or large rectangular heads with large pincers
- Found in: Southern areas of the US including Hawaii, but not further north than North Carolina and Tennessee
What are they?
The formosan termite is an invasive type of termite imported from it’s native habitats of southern China to Formosa, Taiwan (where the species gets it’s name) and Japan. This species of termite came to the United States in the 20th century, likely through the advent of a more globalized economic trading system leading to wooden transportation containers infested with the species ending up in areas that had hospitable environments. This type of termite has been called the “super termite” by some because of it’s sheer destructive capability. Their colonies can grow to be extremely large, containing several million individuals, as compared to other species smaller colony numbers of only several hundred thousands.
How can you tell you have them?
Formosan termites are unfortunately fast acting a virulent, causing large amounts of damage in very short time spans. At times of swarming, the formosan termite swarmers can suddenly appear inside of an infested house. It is important to check that what you have are indeed termites and not a different kind of winged insect. Swarms usually occur at dusk to late evening in humid climates usually in the months of April to July. They are attracted to light, so a swarm of them around you outer porch lights does not necessarily mean that you have an infestation. Just as with other types of termites, rapping on wood that is suspected to be infested will yield a hollow sound. This species replaces the wood it digests with a hard type of tunneling called “carton,” which looks like a sponge but it substantially harder.
What kind of environment do they like?
This type of termite appears to be one of the most varied in its’ living habitat, able to exist in any geographic location where it is warm enough for the eggs to be able to hatch. The eggs require a heat of above 20 degrees Celsius. Formosan termites also produce a poison known as naphthalene as a protective means for their colonies. Naphthalene chemical that provides the distinctive odor found in mothballs. This type of termite can consume many different types of cellulose, including dead wood used in human structures, live trees, and such plants as sugar cane. This type of termite, while it lives on woody matter, has been known to chew through insulation, thin metal sheeting, plaster, asphalt and some plastics. Formosan termites can even build their colonies in trees, not requiring contact with the soil.
This type of termite can consume wood at an extremely rapid rate. They can forage up to 300 feet in search of food for their colony and a colony can consume up to 13 ounces of cellulose each day. Unlike other species of termite, this species can severely damage a structure in as little as 3 months. These termites can forage in such a wide area and each colony is of such a size that an infestation can damage several structures at once. Once completely established to an area it has not been documented that a colony of formosan termites has ever been completely eradicated. They can infest everything from boats to trees to high-rise buildings.