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What is a Formosan Termite?

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  • Written By: Niki Foster
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 09 December 2016
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The Formosan termite is an invasive species that can be extremely destructive to the environment, and to man-made structures. It is named after the area where it was first discovered, Taiwan, which was formerly known as Formosa. However, it is now believed that the Formosan termite originated in southern China. It has spread not only to Taiwan, but to Japan, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Hawaii, and the southern United States.

A single Formosan termite colony consists of millions of individuals that can collectively eat up to 13 ounces (368 gr.) of wood a day. Formosan termites are subterranean, meaning they live underground in tunnels. They produce the chemical naphthalene, often used in pesticides, to prevent other species from invading their territory. They are also able to drive other termite colonies out of an area before forming their own colony. Formosan termites have never been eradicated from any area they have successfully invaded.

A Formosan termite colony consists of a king and queen, along with workers, soldiers, and reproductives. The workers gather food for the colony, while the soldiers defend the queen's nest and the reproductives breed. The queen typically lives for 15 years and can lay up to 2,000 eggs daily. Other termites live for up to five years. In addition to eating wood, the Formosan termite can also feed on paper and cardboard, thin metal sheeting, foam insulation, asphalt, plaster, some plastics, and crops such as sugarcane.

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The colonies of Formosan termites consist of hard nests, called cartons, built of wood pulp and soil cemented with termite saliva and feces. Cartons built inside trees or walls can cause the outside of the structure to bulge and break. Though they are subterranean, Formosan termites do not need contact with soil to live once they have established a successful colony above ground.

If Formosan termites have invaded a structure, their presence can usually be determined by tapping the wood and listening for a hollow sound. They can hollow out wood, leaving a paper-thin surface that may appear wrinkled or blistered. Foraging tubes connecting their underground tunnels to an above-ground area they have invaded are sometimes also visible.

Formosan termites are also called "super-termites" because of their extreme destructive capabilities. They are the most economically destructive pest in Hawaii and one of the most destructive pests in the continental United States. The Formosan termite threatens historic trees and buildings, and millions of United States dollars (USD) are spent every year to control them. Formosan termites are generally controlled using pesticides in the soil, which has further adverse effects upon the environment. Other options for controlling termites include poisoned bait and treating wood with preservatives to prevent invasion.

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