Green weapon slays termites

MADISON, Wisconsin, August 4, 2004 (ENS): A U.S. Forest Service researcher looking for ways to prevent fungi from causing wood to decay may have discovered an important new tool in the battle against termites.

Microbiologist Frederick Green III discovered that a commercially available naphtha based compound called N-hydroxynaphthyalimide (NHA) worked well to prevent decay causing fungi from damaging wood and was effective at killing common Eastern subterranean termites.

Green reported his findings to two termite experts, entomologists M. Guadalupe Rojas and Juan Morales-Ramos, at the USDA's Agricultural Research Station in New Orleans.

Termites cause an estimated $2 billion in damage annually in the United States and are a major problem in the warm and humid Southeast, where Formosan subterranean termites (FSTs) have proven to be especially destructive and difficult to eradicate.

This type of termite is an invasive species that arrived in the U.S. about 50 years ago and are responsible for an estimated $1 billion in damage annually to buildings and living trees.

FSTs are large and reproduce prolifically, establishing colonies that number 10 million or more termites -- compared to only 300,000 individuals in a typical colony of native Eastern subterranean termites.

Termites sometimes travel as far as 100 yards from their nests in search of food and can eat through plastic pipe and thin metal.

They also have demonstrated an ability to survive standard termidicide treatments, in part by avoiding traditional termite baits, and in some areas had displaced the less-destructive native Eastern termites.

In areas infested with FSTs, homeowners and others often have to resort to expensive physical barriers to prevent FSTs from damaging property.

Both Rojas and Morales-Ramos were members of a multi-agency task force created by the Agriculture Department to find a solution to the FST problem.

Rojas and Morales-Ramos developed a cellulose attractant to combine with the NHA. It proved so appealing to the termites that even the Formosan subterranean termites would carry the bait containing NHA back to their nests.

In field tests in Louisiana and Mississippi, entire colonies of Formosan subterranean termites were eliminated in a matter of months, depending on the size of the colony.

Because the NHA termite bait is effective at low doses and, unlike most termidicides, contains no heavy metals, it is considered environmentally friendly and cost effective.

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