An interview with a Formosan subterranean termite


January 14, 2020



Special species singled out: Get to know the Formosan subterranean termite (Coptotermes formosanus)

Pest Management Professional magazine (PMP): So, are you an invasive species?
Formosan subterranean termite (FST): Yes, our ancestors found subtropical America to be a great spot. We’ve really taken hold and come to love your construction types, most famously in New Orleans, La., and Charleston, S.C., over the past century or so.

PMP: You seem to be singled out as a special termite, and people fear you. How did that come about?
FST: Well, to be sure, we are voracious eaters compared to our wimpy native subterranean termite counterparts, plus we have larger colonies and favor climates where we can thrive year-round. But we do feel a bit unloved and singled out as a bad actor, and that’s just not fair! I mean, what other species of insect is called out and excluded on many termite contracts?

PMP: Could you elaborate?
FST: Sure. We’re victims. Many termite contracts state “excludes Formosan termites.” How would that make you feel? But here’s a secret: We can’t read, so we don’t discriminate on which houses we attack.

PMP: Well, yes, but you are just plain mean as a species. Your colonies can number more than 1 million members, you can exude a foul chemical, you destroy solid floors in a short time, and your soldiers will even grab onto a finger! You swarm in the evening when people want to stroll down Bourbon Street in New Orleans.
FST: We swarm as a matter of survival. You know that all we want to do is propagate new colonies, right? We just like to swarm when it is a bit cooler. That hot subtropic heat drains our energy.

PMP: You still can’t deny you destroy buildings, and can even be found in trees. So how do you defend that?
FST: We consume cellulose. We don’t know the differences among scrap wood in a yard, firewood or a structural member. Yet, we still hear people say that they have chased termites from one house to another. Nobody chases us. Remember, we can’t see a house! We’re just looking for food. It can be tough, though.

PMP: How is that?
FST: If we don’t have adequate moisture, we’ll bring the moisture with us and seal it in with our own structures. You’ve heard of a carton nest, right? That’s a lot of work.

PMP: How about Operation Full Stop, the $5 million program the U.S. Congress funded in 1998 for the U.S. Department of Agriculture? Didn’t that great program of noted scientists and practitioners put a real strain on your species?
FST: Talk about formidable foes. Wow. Sure, Operation Full Stop really did stop us dead in many areas of New Orleans, but we have populated most subtropical areas — and
Full Stop was in a targeted area. What Full Stop showed, though, is that with teamwork and concerted efforts, we Formosans can be beaten. But that is off the record: We certainly wouldn’t like that getting out.

PMP: Oh, sure. It’s between us. Right! Thanks for your time. Now, do you mind moving your workers away from my cardboard lunch box?

BAUMANN, a PMP Hall of Famer (Class of 2013), is VP of technical services and regulatory affairs for Nisus Corp., Rockford, Tenn. He can be reached at


About the Author

Greg Baumann is Vice President, Technical Services & Regulatory Affairs for Nisus Corp.

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