The Formosan Subterranean Termite in Georgia
The Formosan subterranean termite, Coptotermes formosanus Shiraki, is native to China, was accidentally introduced into the southern U.S., and has since been found in nine southern states. Since 1993, several dozen infestation sites have been found in Georgia.
The Formosan termite is most commonly imported into Georgia by movement of termite-infested railroad crossties. As railroad companies replace crossties, some of the used ones are sold and re-used to build retaining walls and other landscape features. Some of the used crossties are infested with Formosan termites. The termites survive transport and become established in previously un-infested areas when the crossties are installed. Formosan termites remain extremely rare in Georgia, and the presence of railroad crossties in the landscape in no way implies the presence of the termite on one’s property.
Termite Control Technicians and Homeowners Should Learn to Recognize the Formosan Subterranean Termite
It is important that termite control professionals and homeowners be able to differentiate between Formosan subterranean termites and Georgia’s more common native subterranean termites. The primary differences in the two types of termites are in the size, color, and behavior of the swarmers and soldiers. Click on image to the left to view PDF file.
Swarmers. Formosan termite swarmers are larger than native subterranean termite swarmers, measuring about one-half to five-eighths of an inch from tip of head to tip of wings, and the body is caramel-colored (native termite swarmers are black). Formosan termite wings are hairy, while native termite wings are not hairy. In Georgia, Formosan termites swarm at night in May and June and are attracted to lights, whereas native subterranean termites typically swarm during the day and are not attracted to lights.
Soldiers. Formosan termite soldiers exude a white, glue-like secretion from the top of their head when disturbed. Most notably, however, Formosan termite soldiers make up as much as 15-25% of the termites in a colony compared with just 1-3% in a native subterranean termite colony. Formosan termite soldiers are also aggressive, and will often attempt to bite ones finger tip if challenged.
Mud Tubes on Crossties. During swarm season (May and June in Georgia) Formosan termites often build extensive mud tubing on crosstie walls. Unfortunately, these mud tubes are washed away with the first rain.
To Confirm a Formosan Termite Discovery
If you are a termite control professional or a homeowner and you think you have found a Formosan termite, we can confirm the termites' identification. Please collect swarmers and/or soldiers (do not send workers), place them in a small, airtight vial filled with rubbing alcohol, and take the vial to your nearest county extension office, or contact Dr. Daniel R. Suiter on the UGA Griffin Campus at 770-233-6114.