These days everyone knows that termites are destructive insects that inhabit most regions of the world, with the exception of arctic and subarctic regions, of course. In North America, termites have been found dwelling as far north as British Columbia and Ontario, Canada. However, the widespread distribution of termites, and the destruction that they cause, has not always been a matter of common knowledge to Americans, as termite damage to structures did not become a significant problem in America until almost a century ago. For most of American history, people considered termites to be exotic insects that dwelled within tropical regions. Most Americans had been complete strangers to the destructive potential of termites. While termites are, indeed, at their most diverse and abundant within tropical regions, they have always existed within North America. The rapid increase in global sea travel beginning in the mid twentieth century saw termites spread to new regions where they would soon cause unprecedented degrees of damage to structures and plant life around the world.


The termite species that causes the greatest amount of destruction in the US, the eastern subterranean termite, existed in America long before Europeans colonized the continent. This native termite species infested fence posts and several buildings before it was recognized as a serious insect pest in the country. Records of termite damage in the US date back to the 1800s. In 1875, structures damaged by termites were reported in New England. Termite damage in Connecticut was reported as early as 1909, but it was not until 1931 that cases of termite infestations within structures began to skyrocket. Over the next few years, American Government personnel began investigating termites and the damage they cause to structures.


During the 1930s, investigators discovered termite damage in many early colonial homes that were more than one hundred years old at the time. During the same decade, one man discovered diaries within a home that he had recently purchased. These diaries provided further evidence that termite pest activity in structures increased dramatically during the early 1930s, as the diary described how the former owner had repeatedly spotted termites as well as damaged wood within his home starting in 1934. Also during the 1930s, it became apparent that several newly built homes in New England had become infested with termites. In an effort to prevent further infestations within the homes, the wooden porches were replaced with stone masonry. However, this stone masonry proved ineffective at fending off the unyielding and voracious termites.


Do you think that people living in other countries became familiar with termite destruction earlier than Americans did?