Issue: March 18, 2006

Formosan termite scare


I received a message about mulch from Louisiana. I was warned that there will be shipments of Formosan termite-infested mulch from New Orleans and that this termite is very damaging. Is the information correct and is it something to be concerned about?


The Formosan termite scare has a little truth and tremendous hype. It has entered into the realm of Urban Myth and hoax.

It is true that the Formosan termite is found in the area affected by hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and yes, the Formosan termite can do more damage than subterranean termites which are already present in New Mexico. However, the Formosan termite also infests areas affected by hurricanes in previous years where many trees were blown down. There have been procedures in place for many years to prevent the spread of Formosan termites to the rest of the country. Currently a quarantine order in Louisiana requires burying any cellulose-based materials that are within the quarantine area and may contain the termites. The potentially infested materials are not to leave the area without proper treatment to kill termites. The Departments of Agriculture in the affected states report that manufacturers of mulch are doing a good job of following all treatment practices. However, most trees and other materials in the area are being buried within the quarantine area. The cost of diesel fuel prevents shipping most mulch from such a great distance (to New Mexico) and keeps it from being "dirt cheap." There are local sources of bark and wood chips that do not require long distance shipment.

Although there are procedures in place to prevent the spread of the Formosan termite, it is a good idea to check any material you purchase by looking at it closely. If you find termites, collect samples of the termites (as many as possible - at least 10 individuals) and take them to your local NMSU Cooperative Extension Service office. The Extension agent can determine if the insects are termites or just some other insect. If it is a termite, the sample will be sent to an Extension Entomologist to determine if it is the Formosan termite. It is important to take the sample to the Extension agent rather than sending it directly to NMSU because the agent will be able to eliminate many "false alarms" and give you immediate assurance if it is not a termite. If it is necessary to send the sample to the Entomologist, the Extension agent knows how to prepare the sample for mailing so that it is received in good condition.

Please join us on Southwest Yard & Garden, a weekly program made for gardeners in the Southwest. It airs on KRWG in Las Cruces Saturdays at 4:30 p.m., on KENW in Portales on Saturdays at 10 a.m., and on KNME in Albuquerque on Saturdays at 9:30 a.m.

Send your gardening questions to:
Yard and Garden, ATTN: Dr. Curtis Smith
NMSU Cooperative Extension Service
9301 Indian School Road, NE, Suite 112
Albuquerque, NM 87112

Curtis W. Smith, Ph.D., is an Extension Horticulture Specialist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. New Mexico State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and educator.