Asian Subterranean Termites

Asian Subterranean Termites

Asian Subterranean TermitesIn late 2009 and early 2010, Fiji saw an outbreak of the Asian Subterranean Termites. The infestation was mainly in Lautoka. The Asian Subterranean Termites (AST) – also known as Coptotermes gestroi - is a new is exotic to Fiji and has caused massive damages to homes, schools and millions of dollars.

AST is the second most destructive subterranean termite in the world. Incursions have been recorded in countries in South East Asia, Hawaii, and Florida where populations have established for more than 30 years and damage costs have amounted to billions of dollars.

Fiji has fourteen (14) species of termites which are Cryptotermes brevis, Cryptotermes domesticus, Glyptotermes brevicornis, Glyptotermes taveuniensis, Incisitermes repandus, Procryptotermes sp., Neotermes gnathoferrum, Neotermes papua, Neotermes samoanus, Coptotermes acinaciformis, Prorhinotermes inopinatus, Nasutitermes sp., Nasutitermes olidus, and of course Coptotermes gestroi or AST.

While the other 13 termites species are local or “endemic” to Fiji, AST is exotic and is likely to have been introduced from Asia or the United States 10-15 years ago, probably through infested shipping pallets. With improved biosecurity techniques and resources, this new species was able to be identified in 2009.

About Asian Subterranean termites

Asian Subterranean termites build their nest underground. They socially organize themselves into three groups which include reproductives, soldiers and workers.

The Reproductives lay the eggs. Most colonies have one pair of primary reproductives; the king and the queen. A queen can live for about 20 years and lay 1,000 eggs a day. A colony can have about 60,000 to 1 million termites in it. Only the king and queen have eyes. The rest of the termites are blind and navigate using scent and moisture trails. Kings and queens are usually darker than the rest of the termites in the colony.

The Soldiers is tasked to defend the nest from invaders, usually ants and termites from other colonies. The wide range of jaw types and large heads provide means that effectively block narrow termite tunnels against ant entry. A tunnel-blocking soldier can rebuff attacks from many ants. Soldiers’ heads are often darker than their bodies. They can exude a white toxic fluid for defense purpose. They also produce a rattling sound, a mechanism used by soldier to warn off nest-mates by banging their head against the walls. You may hear the sound during a quiet night if your house is infested with this species.

The Workers are a milky or cream color. They have smaller, saw-toothed mandibles, which allow them to take small bites of wood and carry building materials. As their name suggests they do most of the work in the colony. They dig tunnels, gather food and care for young. They also feed the king, queen and soldiers, who are unable to feed themselves. Workers and soldiers are sterile.

The Asian Subterranean termites love moisture and like to live in cool, dark, damp and moist places. They feed on cellulose found in wood, paper products, clothes and trees such as mango, lemon, coconut and cassava etc. These termites spread to places with infested materials or fly around in swarms. They usually fly in large numbers- hundreds to thousands- in the afternoons and are attracted to light. They do not bite people.

Operation Kadivuka

Operation Kadivuka- a biosecurity operation- was launched in 2010 to contain and eradicate the Asian Subterranean termite infestation in the country. The operation involved about 150 personnel from various Government ministries and departments including the disciplined forces and officers from National Fire Authority (NFA).

Operation Kadivuka consists of three phases where the first phase involves survey and awareness of the termite infested areas. The biosecurity officers carried out surveys in Lautoka and marked the houses, schools and trees infested with the Asian Subterranean termites. A number of awareness programmes were also carried out with communities, schools and various organizations on Operation Kadivuka and termites.

Second phase of Operation Kadivuka- which is currently in progress- involves containment of the spread of termites through rehabilitation and treatment of infested houses and trees.

At the end of 2011, a total of 865 termite infested houses and all 20 termite damaged schools have been rehabilitated by Operation Kadivuka team.

The number of new cases of termite infestation has also significantly reduced compared to those discovered in 2010. In 2010, 30 cases of termite infestation were reported weekly however, in 2011, the number of termite infestation have reduced to 2 cases per week.

In 2011, $0.8million had been spent on termite containment and rehabilitation work bringing the total to about $1.3 million.

The third phase of Operation Kadivuka involves control of termites through monitoring and surveillance of affected areas and awareness and training for communities on preventive measures to protect their homes from termite infestation.

The Biosecurity Authority of Fiji (BAF) would like to inform people that all communities from Drasa to Saru including Lautoka City have been declared as biosecurity emergency areas under the Biosecurity Emergency Promulgation 2010. The Biosecurity Emergency (Termites) Promulgation 2010 is currently in effect and prohibits removal of any wooden materials, plants and plant products, timber and building material, furniture; personal effects and soil from infested areas.

Ways to detect termites:

Termites are a hidden, secretive and silent problem during the initial stages of infestation. It is precisely because of this that the problem remains undetected by most homeowners until much later when the signs of termites become visually apparent. Knowing how to identify these signs and associate them with termites can save people from a lot of trouble. Here are some common signs as a warning of termite presence:

• A swarm at your residence is an indicator that harmful termites are active. Termites usually swarm in and around the house, especially near sources of light after rain.
• Presence of mud shelters from ground to woodwork or on foundation walls.
• Sawdust-like “powder” near doors and windows.
• Shed wings left near doors and windows
• Tiny holes on wood surfaces and
• Paint that has started to bubble on wood surfaces

What can you do to protect your home:

• If you discover a termite infested area, do not pour kerosene or spray insecticides but contact the Termites Operations Command Centre or the Biosecurity Authority of Fiji (BAF) Office for help;
• Do not remove and transport any wooden materials, plants, furniture, personal effects and soil from infested areas;
• Maintain hygiene and cleanliness around compounds and inside the houses. Allow fresh air and sunshine to flow freely. Inspect your homes, trees and compounds thoroughly;
• Water puddles must be drained away from homes;
• Drainage and piping systems need to be cleaned and maintained;
• Do not disturb and disrupt colonies of termites as they will disperse to other areas;
• Ensure that the timber used has been treated properly;
• Ensure that the wooden building floor not to be less than 800mm/32inch from ground level.
• Ceiling not to be less than 2.4mtrs/8 ft from floor.
• All framing timbers to be pink primer & pink priming timber edges before nailing.
• Concrete building with wooden floor to have proper air ventilation and ceiling to have air ventilation.
• Painting is very important it protects the timber to last longer.
• Windows and curtains to be open in the day to allow light and air into the house.
• Concrete floor to be of proper standard
• Report any signs of termite activity and symptoms of termite infestations in home to Termites Operations Command Centre or (BAF) Office.

Precautions to take during Termite Swarming

Termite swarming usually occurs towards the end of the year, in October onwards. During this period people should not get alarmed if they see Asian Subterranean termites swarming near their homes. Swarming is common during this time of the year as it was part of the termite life cycle when they developed wings and fly to other areas to start new colonies.

People should take precautionary measures to stop the swarm from entering and forming new colonies in their homes. Once termites enter the homes they are likely to shed their wings and form new colonies which would be very destructive for the home owners.

People are requested to close all windows and doors from 6.30pm to 8pm and light small fires in a controlled area outside their homes so that the termites get attracted to it and burn themselves in the fire.

Asian Subterranean Termites get attracted to light so people should also switch off all lights outside their homes and use minimal lightings inside.

The public should act responsibly during this period and assist the Operation Kadivuka team and the Biosecurity Authority of Fiji (BAF) to contain and control the Asian Subterranean Termites