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RANCHO SANTA FE and HIGHLAND PARK, California – Two more new Formosa subterranean termites (Coptotermes formosanus) in Southern California were discovered by Dr. Chow-Yang Lee and researchers from his laboratory at the University of California, Riverside Department of Entomology.
Joshua Clements, owner of Already a Better Choice Termite & Pest Control, El Monte, California, made the discovery in Highland Park during a termite inspection on June 10th. Clements said he noticed hawkers in the client’s bedroom and, on closer inspection, thought they might be Formosa subterranean termites instead of the common western subterranean termites (Reticulitermes hesperus). “The color was just a little off. They weren’t entirely black and the wings looked a little different, ”he said.
Clements collected the termites in a plastic bag and showed them to Dr. Lee, Greg Kund (Research Associate at UC-Riverside) and Dr. Siavash Taravati (urban IPM consultant at UC-Cooperative Extension, Los Angeles County) when they visited the house two weeks later to collect more samples and investigate termite damage. Lee confirmed both morphologically and molecularly that they were underground termites from Formosa. According to Lee, this was the first subterranean Formosa termite discovery in Los Angeles County.
UC-Riverside and Clements are currently monitoring the infestation in the hopes of treating the house with a termite bait.
Although Formosa’s underground termites are more commonly associated with the southeastern United States and so far only reported in pockets in Southern California, Clements believes they are more common than previously thought. “I’ve come to the conclusion that there may be a lot of companies out there that probably saw them and just didn’t notice. You will see hawmers from late May to late July and treat them without thinking too much. I know I did [termite work] for 19 years and that was the first time that I found her. “
Also in June, about 160 miles south of Highland Park, in Rancho Santa Fe, California, Troy Hook, termite service manager, Green Flash Pest and Termite Control, re-inspected a home the company recently treated for it they were believed to be western subterranean termites. Hook collected termite samples from the property and sent them to his local Ag department. The information was then sent to Dr. Taravati and the samples finally got to Dr. Lee’s lab, which confirmed they were underground termites from Formosa.
“I knew it was Formosa termites because the body is differently colored and the wing body size is very different from that of drywood hawks,” Hook said. “The wings were really very big compared to the body size. The head is darker in color – it’s not the orange-reddish color like a dry wood hawk. Also the number of enthusiasts; we’re talking about thousands of enthusiasts inside and outside the house. “
Since Green Flash was already treating the property with a conventional liquid termiticide (Termidor HE), the area of the structure with the greatest activity (the back wall) was pulled back. Hook said he and the UCR researchers are also considering baiting at this stage if the infestation continues.
Why was this particular house contaminated by underground termites from Formosa? Eric Veronick, Operations Manager at Green Flash Pest and Termite Control, suspects Formosa termites may have been transported to the area. For example, in the past Formosa termites were transported in infested potted plants from Hawaii, Louisiana, Texas, the southeastern United States, and even overseas to Southern California.
After discovering Formosan termites, Hook met with his inspectors to give them a refresher on Formosan termite identification. In addition to the biological differences, Hook encouraged his inspectors to look for termites at dusk and in summer, a trait he has observed in Formosa termites.
Like Clements, both Hook and Veronick believe that Formosa termites may be more common in Southern California than previously thought. “Without a doubt,” Hook said. “Maybe they adapt to the climate. We see a subtropical termite in an area with a Mediterranean climate with warm, dry summers and mild, humid winters. “
Formosa termite discoveries at Rancho Santa Fe and Highland Park follow a June 2020 Formosa termite discovery in Canyon Lake, California. “Based on population genetic studies, my postdoc Shu-Ping Tseng confirmed that the samples from Rancho Santa Fe and Highland Park are unrelated to those from Canyon Lake, Riverside County. “
In response to these recent discoveries of the Formosa underground termites in Southern California, Dr. Taravati and Lee issued a California Formosa Subterranean Termite Alert. The document includes photos and identification information, as well as a call to action to report results to UC-ANR and UC-Riverside. CLICK HERE to download the document.