Thursday, May 23, 2013

Identifying Formosan termites

Formosan termites swarm around a streetlight in Metairie,
LA on May 22, 2013. (Mark Schleifstein, | The
Late May, around Mother's Day is traditionally when Formosan termites tend to swarm in both Texas and Louisiana.  I was reminded of this when someone sent me a link to last night's New Orleans Times Picayune report of readers' images of the "swarms" (these amateur photographers catch some pretty dramatic images--check them out).

While I know of no Texas community that experiences Formosan termites to the same degree as New Orleans, these termites are established in many locations in Texas.  So all Texas PMPs should be familiar with what to look for.

Coptotermes alates (swarmers) are yellowish to orange in
color and larger than Reticulitermes species.
Here are the basics for Formosan termite, Coptotermes formosanus, identification and how to distinguish them from other subterranean and drywood termites:
  • Look for termites that swarm at night rather than in the day.  Our native subterranean termites, the Reticulitermes species, are daytime swarmers; Coptotermes and some of our native drywood termites (Incisitermes) swarm at night.
  • Coptotermes termites are larger (body 6-8 mm) than Reticulitermes (body 3-5 mm) and are a pale yellow to orange color. Both Reticulitermes and Incisitermes can have dark (reddish brown to black) bodies. 
  • Coptotermes wings are distinctive.  They have two strong veins along the leading edge of the forewing, similar to Reticulitermes. But where Reticulitermes wings are hairless, Coptotermes wings are covered with many hairs.  Incisitermes have four major veins at the base of the forewing, and multiple branches between the leading veins in the forewing.
If you are in Texas and suspect you have found Formosan termites, you can send specimens to my office, following directions posted here.  I am especially interested in knowing about Formosan-infested locations in north Texas.  For more information about Formosan termites, see Extension publication E-367.

Coptotermes wings have two very prominent veins along the
leading edge of the forewing. The entire wing is covered with
very fine hairs visible under 12X to 25X magnification.

Reticulitermes wings have two stronger veins along the
leading edge of the forewing. Other wing veins, however, are
also prominent and there are no noticeable hairs on the wing

Incisitermes forewings have four branching veins at the base.
The forth vein has multiple branches along its length. Some
species have dark wings.

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