Termites are cryptic creatures due to their enclosed habitats. The most damaging group of termites in North America, subterranean termites, cannot be tracked easily due to their underground habitat. Drywood and dampwood termites are often considered even more difficult to track than subterranean termites, as these termites easily spread from region to region by infesting wooden pallets used for shipping goods. Since drywood and dampwood termites reside entirely within isolated pieces of wood, their damaging presence is not easy to notice. When infested pieces of wood are brought into a home, drywood and dampwood termites can move onto establishing new colonies in many different areas of the home’s structural wood, which makes these termites difficult to trace even within one single house. Surprisingly, there does not exist any government agency that is tasked with tracking termite populations across the United States. Considering that termites inflict around five billion dollars in damages each year in the US alone, which makes them the most economically significant structural pests in America, one would think that the government would have an interest in tracking their population movements. However, this is easier said than done.

While there do exist several government programs that are tasked with termite damage-prevention, there does not yet exist any reliable method of tracking termite population movements across wide regions of land. The Environmental Protection Agency is mainly concerned with the regulation of pest control methods and not so much with the development of termite tracking programs or methods. The US Department of Agriculture oversees numerous termite control and research programs, some of which are concerned with developing termite tracking technologies. For example, back in 2010, the USDA sponsored a program that saw researchers from the University of Arizona develop a method of tracking dessert subterranean termites across several acres of land. But this method has since been found to have many limitations, and is not yet widely used by professionals.

At the moment, researchers do their best to track termite population movements across the country by gathering inspection reports from pest control companies. However, pest control companies are only legally required to hand over reports on Formosan subterranean termites, as the highly destructive nature of these invasive termites in the states of Louisiana and Florida have prompted more aggressive legislation to control their spread to new regions. It must be remembered, however, that Formosan termites are easier to trace than native termites, as their habitat is limited to only the southeastern Gulf Coast states. The state of California has funded studies that show how infrared detection technology could be used to track termite movements, but this technology has not yet been scientifically field tested as a termite tracking method.

Do you think that tracking termite population movements is important in the effort to curb termite damage in the US?