The Formosan subterranean termite (FST), Coptotermes formosanus, is a very destructive pest first reported in California in 1992 in La Mesa, San Diego County. FST has since been found in Canyon Lake, Riverside County, Rancho Santa Fe (San Diego County) and Highland Park (Los Angeles County).
While this termite species is currently only found in a few locations in Southern California, it's important for residents and professional pest managers to be aware of them. Wood destroying pests can easily be moved through human activities.
To identify Formosan termites, UC IPM advisor Dr. Siavash Taravati and Dr. Chow-Yang Lee of UC Riverside developed this poster. Email them at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org if you see any termites resembling those in the poster.
For Pest Management Professionals: Is the management for Formosan termites the same as management for native subterranean termites?
The short answer is “it depends!”. Formosan subterranean termites (FST) can form extremely large colonies in the field reaching millions of individuals. When the active nests are primarily in the ground, most colony members stay in the ground except when foraging for food. In this case, in-ground baiting is used against native subterranean termites and it may provide adequate control. However, some FST colonies could be formed above the ground (aerial) with no or limited contact with the soil. In-ground baiting is unlikely to be effective for managing such aerial colonies.
If you are a structural PMP, read more in the Spring 2023 Green Bulletin Newsletter.
To learn more about subterranean termites and their management, see Pest Notes: Subterranean and Other Termites.
- Author: Help Desk Team
For most of the Bay Area we had an unexpected but wonderful seasonal surprise – RAIN. This blessing provided a drink of water to plants that we have had to ignore due to water rationing.
We were not the only ones waiting for that first seasonal rain. Subterranean termites were waiting for that cue to emerge from the soil and party. Winged reproductives leave the underground nest in swarms to seek out a mate and then search for a new nest site. You may have seen them flying in swarms or on the ground exiting or landing on the soil.
They generally fly less than 300 feet from their emergence point. Their goal may be thwarted though, as this ritual exposes them to predation by birds, reptiles, spiders, and other insects. Most of the reproductives don't survive the feeding frenzy.
The most common subterranean termites, Reticulitermes, can be encountered in nearly all regions of the state. It can swarm in fall or spring and both situations are warm days following rain. They are not very big, less than one-half inch long including the wings, which are silvery-gray and twice the length of the body itself.
When not involved in the mating ritual, they live in the soil. Subterranean termites require a moist environment, and living in the soil and feeding in dead and decaying wood meets that need.
Termites are decomposers which benefit the environment. Unfortunately for us, dead wood includes structural lumber of which our homes or outdoor structures are made.
Since most soil around a home has buried wood debris (roots, stumps, or fence posts), finding swarming termites in your yard doesn't necessarily mean your house is infested. If you see a swarm on your property, do you have a problem? Possibly.
Andrew Sutherland, University of California's Urban Integrated Pest Management Advisor for the Bay Area, wrote in his blog: “If observing a swarm on your property, especially if near your home or other structures, you can hire a professional termite company for a detailed inspection. Make sure to photograph or otherwise note the swarm location so that the inspector can start there.”
If you would like additional information on subterranean termites, including recognizing their activity in and around the home and management options, check out the following link to UC IPM's Pest Note titled Subterranean and Other Termites.
Help Desk of University of California Master Gardener Program of Contra Costa County (EDC)
- Author: Andrew Mason Sutherland
It's that time of year again: termite swarm season! Western subterranean termites, Reticulitermes hesperus (species complex), produce reproductive swarms during calm sunny periods immediately following the first autumn rains. This is especially pronounced in the San Francisco Bay Area and parts of the Sacramento Valley, where mature termite colonies across a broad region may swarm simultaneously en masse, filling the air with termites fluttering their gossamer wings and filling social media discussions with wonder, horror, confusion, and dread.
What should you do? If observing a swarm on your property, especially if near your home or other structures, you can hire a professional termite company for a detailed inspection. Make sure to photograph or otherwise note the swarm location so that the inspector can start there. Even if you don't see swarms on your property, regular (every three to five years) inspections will help detect infestations before they cause significant damage and prevent future infestations. There are several proven management strategies for termites; review UC IPM's Pest Notes: Subterranean Termites.
For now, perhaps we can all appreciate the wonder of this natural spectacle. Winged termites are great sources of food for birds, lizards, other insects, and spiders. Termites also provide important ecosystem services, such as decomposition of wood and fallen leaves, contribution to soil structure formation, enhancement of water infiltration in soil, and facilitation of nutrient availability to plants. Furthermore, western subterranean termites are native to California and have been here long before we built wooden structures on top of their colonies. (Termite) love is in the air!/div>
- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Lewis will cover the life and legacy of African-American entomologist and civil rights advocate Margaret Collins (1922-1996) at his presentation on Tuesday morning, Nov. 2. The long-awaited conference will be hybrid, that is, both virtual and in-person.
Collins will be "the fourth woman and second Black entomologist to be the subject of the Founders' Memorial lecture in the award's 64-year history," according to an ESA news release. (See list of previous recipients.)
'The Termite Man'
Vernard Lewis, who holds a doctorate in entomology (1989) from UC Berkeley, is a recognized national and international authority on drywood termites. He is known for his pioneering research on detection innovations and nonchemical methods of control. Lewis joined the UC Berkeley faculty in 1990 and was the university's first African-American faculty-member hired in the 150-year history of the Rausser College of Natural Resources. He retired July 1, 2017 from a 35-year career as an urban entomologist, the last 26 years as a Cooperative Extension specialist. As Lynn Kimsey, director of the UC Davis Bohart Museum of Entomology and UC Davis distinguished professor of entomology told us in a Bug Squad blog in July 2017: "He was the best; knowledgeable, personable and engaged. I'm really annoyed that he retired."
"He was always the go-to person in Extension when it came to termites, and he had that special personality which enabled him to immediately engage with people," related UC Davis distinguished professor Frank Zalom, a past president of the 7000-member ESA. "I always got the feeling that he genuinely liked what he did, and it showed."
During his career, Lewis focused his research on a variety of urban pests, including not only termites, but ants, bed bugs, cockroaches and wood-boring insects. He authored more than 150 refereed and trade magazine articles and book chapters on termites and other household insect pests. He delivered more than 700 presentations to widespread audiences. Lewis was inducted into the National Pest Management Association Hall of Fame in 2016. Since achieving emeritus, he has been spending his time on university and industry committees and public boards dedicated to increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion for underrepresented minorities and women into STEM careers.
In June 2020, Brite Energy Innovators paid tribute to Lewis as one of the world's Amazing Black Scientists. An excerpt: "At UC Berkeley, Lewis famously constructed a 400-square-foot (37-square-meter) wooden building near the campus for investigating pest insect detection and control; The structure was affectionately known as 'Villa Termiti.' Built in 1993, the building temporarily housed rotating communities of bedbugs, termites, beetles and ants, while Lewis and other scientists studied the insects' habits and tested their resistance to different methods of extermination. These included exposure to X-rays, microwaves, liquid nitrogen and fumigation, according to UC Berkeley."
Another excerpt from Amazing Black Scientists: "Lewis also worked to promote diversity in entomology, and participated in outreach programs to introduce underserved youth to life sciences, insects and biodiversity." He was one of 20 researchers featured in ESA's 2015 book “Memoirs of Black Entomologists,” designed to encourage minority students to pursue careers in science.
Margaret James Strickland Collins was known as "The Termite Lady" during her entomological career that spanned five decades. She engaged in extensive research on termites that included identifying a new species, Neotermes luykxi. "Her pioneering studies on the mechanism and evolution of termite desiccation resistance across various habitats provided foundational knowledge for generations of entomologists, field biologists, and ecologists," said Lewis, who wrote about her in a piece published June 1, 2016 in BioOne journal.
His abstract: "Often legends go unrecognized for their achievements in science and the betterment of society. In the case of Margaret Collins, it has been almost 20 years since her passing, and except for appreciation by a small cadre of termite experts, her contributions to entomology have received scant notice. However, her work and legacy have stood the test of time, and even today, she is considered, and often cited as, the definitive source for differences in toleration and resistance to drying among species of termites. At her core, Margaret was a field biologist, and she demonstrated it through her travels and termite collection trips to a dozen countries. Her long and illustrious career included publishing of scientific papers, tenured faculty positions, and service as a curator of the termite collection at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, District of Columbia. Margaret achieved many firsts during her life. She was the first African American female to be awarded a Ph.D. involving entomology at a major university. In addition, she was the first woman graduate student for the legendary isopterist and Professor of Zoology, Alfred E. Emerson. Her passion for termites remains highly visible in her published works. Her passion for her family and her strong support of civil rights for women and African Americans were less visible except to those she knew personally."'
Born in Institute, W.Va., on Sept. 4, 1922, Margaret was recognized as a child prodigy at age 6, "as evidenced by her being awarded the privilege to check out books at the West Virginia State College Library," Lewis wrote in the journal article. Following her high school graduation at age 14, she went on to receive her bachelor's degree in biology from West Virginia State College in 1943, and her doctorate in zoology in 1949 from the University of Chicago. Her thesis: Differences in Toleration of Drying among Species of Termites (Reticulitermes).
Collins was one of the first African-American women to receive an advanced degree related to zoology/entomology. "Those of us with collegiate degrees are well aware of the challenges and obstacles that can drain enthusiasm and delay completion, which include lack of funding, being away from home, and difficult and demanding courses and class loads," Lewis wrote. "Margaret had all of these, plus more."
"Upon receiving her Ph.D. in 1950 at the University of Chicago, Collins became the first African-American female entomologist," Lewis noted. "In the mid-'50s while on the faculty of Florida A&M, her invitation to speak at a local predominantly white university on biology and equity was cancelled due to a bomb threat. During the Florida A&M Student Council bus boycott of 1955 to protest racial inequality, Dr. Collins volunteered to drive people to work. These activities led to her being closely watched by the police and FBI."
In 1979, Collins coordinated an American Association for the Advancement of Science symposium on "Science and the Question of Human Equality," and later that year, published a book with the same title. The book is "an interdisciplinary look at racism and science, investigating the biological and social realities of individual and group differences," according to the publisher.
Love of Science
Just like Margaret Collins, Lewis shares a love of termites, a love of science, and a love of public service. In the ESA news release, ESA President Michelle S. Smith praised Lewis for his "remarkable career in both research and extension" and as "a role model for current and future generations of insect scientists. His pioneering spirit echoes that of Dr. Margaret Collins, and her story of determination, curiosity, and perseverance will be a perfect complement to our annual meeting showcasing adaptation and transformation in insect science."
The ESA meeting is appropriately themed "Adapt. Advance. Transform."
Yes! "Adapt. Advance. Transform." And let's add one more: "Recognize!"
We're delighted to see this much deserved recognition for two legendary entomologists.
- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Sutherland, UC Riverside professor and urban entomologist Chow-Yang Lee, and USDA forest entomologist Lori Nelson want to compare the spring swarming populations of Reticulitermes hesperus with the fall swarming populations.
“A major taxonomic question surrounding western subterranean termites remains unsolved,” said Sutherland, the Urban IPM Advisor for the San Francisco Bay Area. “Most termite species simultaneously swarm over a relatively short period during one season, facilitating genetic exchange during mating. Individuals thought to represent Reticulitermes hesperus, however, have been observed swarming during both autumn (usually on a sunny day after the first autumn rain event) and spring (sunny days when soil is moist) suggesting that there are at least two cryptic species considered within the western subterranean termite complex or that speciation is underway (individuals swarming at different times of the year cannot mate with one another).”
In fact, says Sutherland, USDA Forest Service research by Michael Haverty and Lori Nelson indicates that spring and autumn swarming populations can actually be distinguished by different cuticular hydrocarbons (waxes on exoskeleton).
In the collaborative UC IPM, UC Riverside, and USDA Forest Service research project, “we seek to resolve this question once and for all by comparing DNA microsatellite data and cuticular hydrocarbon data from alates (winged termite swarmers) collected during these different seasons,” Sutherland said.
Residents of California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, western Nevada, southern British Columbia, and northern Baja California can help by collecting at least 25 individuals of swarming Reticulitermes and freezing them in a hard-walled container, such as a pill bottle, film canister or a food storage plastic container. Contributors will receive a Common Cockroaches of California poster or another special gift. Contributing pest management professionals will receive a free training opportunity with ‘IPM' continuing education units for California's Structural Pest Control Board licenses.
Sutherland's program will fund the shipping of the specimens. He may be reached at email@example.com for further information, such as if the termite specimens qualify.
About Termites and Sutherland's Work
Termites, like cockroaches, are members of the order Blattodea and evolved some 120 million years ago. Structural infestations of subterranean termites are usually not visible, but the annual flights of winged termites (alates) are. This research will help pest control providers and residents understand the most likely swarming periods in their specific region, improving monitoring and control for these important structural pests.
Sutherland, who began researching termites in 2014, says the western subterranean termite, “is the most damaging wood destroying insect in northern California and most other parts of the Pacific Northwest, causing billions of dollars of damage to homes and other structures each year. Conventional treatments use soil drenches or injections of liquid termiticides to create protective barriers around wooden structures.”
One of his research projects seeks to evaluate an alternative management tactic for subterranean termites: bait station systems that use insect growth regulator insecticides to eliminate entire termite colonies. “Bait systems represent reduced environmental contamination as compared to liquid treatments, but adoption of their use in California and other Western states has been slow to progress,” he said, adding that he hopes his research will demonstrate the relative efficacy of baits and increase both demand for and provision of bait services.
Sutherland, who holds advanced degrees in entomology and horticulture from UC Davis and the University of Florida—including a doctorate in entomology from UC Davis in 2009-- is a Board-Certified Entomologist (Entomological Society of America certification program). He focuses his research on developing new IPM strategies or adapting and implementing current IPM strategies, in cooperation with other researchers, pest control operators, pest management professionals, public agencies, schools, parks, public housing, and regulatory agencies involved with household, structural, and industrial IPM.
His work includes education about IPM principles, development of IPM programs for clientele, reduction in unnecessary pesticide applications, and mitigation of surface water contamination due to urban pesticide applications.
See more information on termites on the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management (UC IPM) site, Subterranean and Other Termites.