Auburn, Sept 6---Local businesses and
homeowners may be unwittingly contributing to the spread of a
destructive termite that already has been spotted in five Alabama
In August, for example, one Lee County company was
selling surplus utility poles – a fact that sparked the immediate
concern of Dr. Xing Ping Hu, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System
entomologist, who fears the poles may have harbored colonies of
Formosan termites, considered the world’s most destructive
Formosan termites can infest the central, untreated
portions of creosote-treated telephone poles. Railroad ties and
telephone poles are the two most common means by which Formosan
termites are spread throughout the United States.
What concerns Hu most of all is that the poles were
being sold and transported out of Lee County, a Formosan
"Selling surplus poles without termite
inspection could provide a highway that helps the Formosan termites
munch their way across Alabama and neighboring states," Hu
After learning of the surplus polls, Hu contacted
Dr. Jeff Clary, Lee County Extension coordinator, in hopes of
arranging a local inspection of the poles. As it turned out, the
poles already had been sold and were headed in all directions in
Formosan termites are the most destructive and the
most difficult to control termite in the world, Hu says. Even worse,
the termites generally are able to infest dwellings long before
people are even aware of them.
That probably explains why the termites reached
epidemic levels long before they were spotted in the United States.
It also explains why Hu is determined to keep poles and other
materials from being sold and shipped from infested areas.
It is believed the first Formosan termites were
brought to the United States in wooden shipping crates sometime
after World War II. The termites were not positively confirmed in
the United States until 1965.
"The crates probably were used for building or
landscape materials or ended up buried in landfills," Hu says.
"Unfortunately, the dirt provided a haven for this subterranean
Since then termites have spread to Alabama and 13
other Southern states. Formosan termites already have become well
established in Alabama since their debut in 1987.
Hu has identified well-established Formosan termite
colonies in five Alabama counties, "from the far south all the
way to the northeast corner of the state."
As weak fliers, Formosan termites ironically have
depended on humans for their rapid spread. In addition to
ocean-going ships, other sources also contribute to the termites’
Prime sources include railroad ties, utility poles,
topsoil, landscaping timbers and plants transported over long
Very few things are immune to the termites’
spread. They have been shown to penetrate cement, lead, asphalt,
plaster and mortar. Rubber, plastic and even brick also have failed
to provide a barrier.
"The termites have even been known to pass
through styrofoam, PVC pipes, electric power lines and even thin
sheets of soft metal in order to reach food and moisture
sources," Hu says.
Unfortunately for homeowners, even though termites
feed voraciously and build big colonies, they’re not likely to be
noticed until it’s too late.
Formosa termites have reached epidemic levels,
resulting in more than $2 billion annually in damage and control
Unlike other Southeastern states, Alabama has no
program in place to research this pest and to educate Alabamians
about its destructive potential.
"Unfortunately, the termite is here to
stay," Hu says. "And the only hope of managing it is
through research and educational efforts, coupled with a community
effort aimed at slowing their spread to new sites and reducing the
risk of future eruptions."
One effective approach would involve establishing a
program that enables researchers and Extension personnel to track
and document the spread of this destructive pest.
Alabama remains the only state with severe Formosan
termite infestation that has not established such a program.
For now, the best control is prevention.
"We want people to be careful about buying or
transporting materials and topsoil from areas that have Formosan
termite infestation," Hu says.
(Source: Dr. Xing
Ping Hu, Extension entomologist, 334-844-9362.)