To the human eye, the light trap looks like a simple bucket with some screen and a black light hanging from the top.
To the Formosan subterranean termites, it’s an entirely different story.
“That’s basically the singles bar for the termites,” said Gregg Henderson, the Paul K. Adams professor of entomology at LSU.
Since 2009, Henderson has been setting out 15 of these light traps across East Baton Rouge Parish and counting alates, the winged form of the termite, as he tries to determine population trends.
What he found won’t make homeowners that happy — the Formosan subterranean termite is on the rise in a big way.
In 2009, there was an average of 32 of these winged termites caught per trap during the entire swarm season, which runs primarily in May but can extend into June. By 2014, the average jumped to 596 winged termites caught per trap.
“I think people don’t see Baton Rouge as a major infestation area, and it’s not compared to New Orleans, the north shore and Lake Charles,” Henderson said. However, the numbers are increasing, he said.
Generally, the numbers per trap in Baton Rouge have been on the rise since the project started in 2009, with a slight dip seen in 2011. Based on the 20 years of termite population measurements in New Orleans, these dips usually occur when there is a drought.
“They easily dry out in dry soil,” Henderson said.
Some of the high numbers have been noted in a light trap near Bluebonnet Swamp and a trap on Highland Road near Interstate 10.
Henderson is in the process of setting up the light traps for the 2015 May swarms in about 15 locations across the parish.
“We check these light traps each day,” he said. “Usually on Mother’s Day we see a large swarm.”
While much of the spread of Formosan termites can be blamed on the transporting of infected material, the natural spread of termites starts when males and females develop wings and fly from their original colony. Attracted to light, these alates swarm around the light source and drop their wings. That starts the search for a cavity somewhere they can nest and mate.
In the first year, there may be only 30 bugs in a new colony. By the second year, that jumps to 70.
“It’s a very slow growth until you get enough workers to bring food into the queen and king,” Henderson said. “It has to be a 10-year-old colony before they can form the alates (winged form of the termite).”
Young termites are the workers of the new colony and will either change into a sterile soldier or, if the colony is mature enough, change into a winged alate to fly off and form a new colony.
“We’ve seen an increase in not just Formosan termites but we’ve been seeing more swarming termites,” said Jacob Cohn, operations manager with Arrow Termite & Pest Control Co.
Swarms look for high-moisture areas to settle, so Cohn said it’s important for homeowners to look for any areas of their home that have high-moisture problems like a leaky roof, an air conditioning vent or deteriorating caulking around a window.
“Termites can even get in there and start a colony,” Cohn said.
Jeremy Clark, general manager of Dugas Pest Control, also noticed this increase.
“Formosan termites, year after year, have gotten more prevalent,” he said.
In the last five years, Clark said, the company has had about an 18 percent increase in the number of termite treatments they’ve conducted. Although some of that may be due to increased marketing to grow a client base, some of that reflects more termite activity, he said.
Although queens are long-lived and can survive for 35 years, eventually they die, which signals other termites in the colony, and the females begin to reproduce.
“They’ll just replace her,” he said.
While the original queen could produce 2,000 eggs a day, these replacement egg layers aren’t as productive. However, he said, there could be several hundred producing females in a colony after the original queen dies.
One thing homeowners should do, he said, is to avail themselves of the free initial inspection pest control operators offer to look for signs of termites. A pest control expert also can help homeowners prevent problems by looking for things like firewood stacked up against the house that can increase the chances of attracting termites, he said.
“The damage takes a long time. Don’t panic,” he said.
Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.