Fact vs. Fiction: Formosan Termites


April 17, 2014

Fiction: Formosan termites chew through everything, including steel and concrete.
Fact: Formosan termites (Coptotermes formosanus) will attack non-wood substances such as plastics, foam insulation, plaster, asphalt, sealant between water pipes, thin copper or lead sheeting while searching for cellulose to eat. Concrete is a barrier to Formosans, but like many other subterranean species, they will exploit tiny cracks and crevices in slabs and foundations in their search for cellulose.

Fiction: Formosans eat only wood.
Fact: Formosans consider anything with cellulose in it a food source. Paper, cardboard, wallboards, cloth — in addition to wood-based products — are attractive to them. If the materials  also contain a degree of moisture, that’s a bonus.

Fiction: Being a subterranean termite, Formosans must maintain contact with the soil.
Fact: Formosans frequently travel further in search of food and will build nests with zero soil contact. These nests are often found in two- and three-story houses, as well as trees. Unlike other species of termites, Formosans feed on live trees and plants.

Fiction: Formosans are more destructive because they eat more.
Fact: Individual insects eat about the same amount as other species. What makes the Formosans so destructive is the size of their colonies (6 million vs. 1 million) and the variety of their appetite for living as well as dead sources of cellulose.

Fiction: I’ve heard Formosans are so aggressive they’ll even attack people.
Fact: Like many other colonial species, Formosan nests have soldiers to guard them. If you disturb their nests, the soldiers will come out and, in defense, might even manage to latch onto a finger. But the jaws that can chew through thin sheets of soft metal can’t even break the skin. pmp

You can reach the McGoverns at jeffreymcgovern@mindspring.com

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