By Clay Kirby, Insect Diagnostician
E-mail warnings about termite-infested Louisiana mulch have made several rounds lately (do an internet search of “Urban Legends mulch”). This has generated a firestorm of email, phone and local media inquiries. Since everyone is so electronically connected these days, we will probably continue to receive a steady stream of disturbing warnings covering a wide range of topics from flu pandemics to terrorists to infested mulch, all of which have the potential for raising mass concern.
Fortunately for Maine, we have a climate that is fairly hostile to termites of any sort. There have been occasional infestations of eastern subterranean termites, mostly in southern Maine. The termite mentioned in recent email warnings (see Editor’s Note, below) is the Formosan subterranean termite. This exotic “super” termite has been causing problems in the Gulf States since the 50’s. So the possibility of infested material making its way northward from infested states after a hurricane is nothing new.
In addition to Maine’s hostile climate, we have probability on our side as well. The chances of a reproductive female ready to lay eggs, surviving the chipping process, and hitching a ride to Maine in a bag of mulch, are fairly small. Another factor working in our favor is the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry (see www.LSUAgCenter.com). There are quarantines in effect for the infested parishes and a small army of personnel involved in monitoring and managing Formosan subterranean termite populations.
A look at a distribution map (http://creatures.ifas.ufl.edu/urban/termites/fst2.htm) reveals that the main infestations of this particular termite are still confined mostly to the Gulf States. Taken together, these factors lessen the odds of Maine becoming infested with this pest, but you can add an extra measure of peace of mind by inquiring about the origin of mulch before purchase and thus avoid the slightest chance of bringing home an exotic visitor from the South.
Editor’s Note: I’ve received 5 versions of this particular urban legend:
TEXT OF URBAN LEGEND E-MAIL: "If you use mulch around your house be very careful about buying mulch this year. After the Hurricane in New Orleans many trees were blown over. These trees were then turned into mulch and the state is trying to get rid of tons and tons of this mulch to any state or company who will come and haul it away. So it will be showing up in Home Depot and Lowes at dirt cheap prices with one huge problem; Formosan Termites will be the bonus in many of those bags."
Read about this false Urban Legend here: http://www.snopes.com/inboxer/household/termites.asp