Bug Blog

The Most Destructive Termite In America Was Accidentally Exported To Europe

There are numerous termite species existing within the United States. Some of these species are considered invasive, such as the Formosan subterranean termite and the Asian subterranean termite. Luckily, the habitat range of these two species does not extend far beyond the southern Gulf Coast states. However, there exists several native termite species in the US, and these species are more widespread and destructive than invasive termites. The native eastern subterranean termite is the most widespread and the most damaging termite species in the US. If termite damage is discovered within an American home, then eastern subterranean termites are the most likely culprits. Eastern subterranean termites are associated with the US for obvious reasons, but these destructive termites also reside within Europe. Of course, eastern subterranean termites cause massive amounts of damage in Europe as well, and controlling this non-native species has proven difficult for European authorities. Although experts are not certain about the origin of eastern subterranean termites in Europe, evidence shows that they were most likely imported from America.

Eastern subterranean termites are officially known as Reticulitermes flavipes, and they were first discovered in Europe in 1837. Several specimens were found in plants located at the Schönbrunn Palace in Austria. These plants had been imported from America. Later, in 1924, these termies were found on France’s Atlantic coast where, at the time, they were mistakenly documented as a new species. Today, eastern subterranean termites are considered to be a costly insect pest in France where they destroy both structures and trees. Modern eastern subterranean termite habitats in France extend from the Gironde region up to Paris and Normandy. These termites eventually made their way into Italy, and during the 1930s, they were discovered in Hamburg, Germany. Eastern subterranean termites cause massive amounts of destruction in Hamburg and other parts of Germany to this day. In Italy, new populations of these termites are discovered frequently. For example, a major infestation was discovered in a home in northern Italy in 2008. Some experts believe that eastern subterranean termites became a problem in France after they were accidentally transported to the country from Mississippi or Louisiana during the colonial period. However, this is only a possibility, as there is no hard evidence to suggest that these termites arrived in France from America via colonial activity.

Given the high amount of maritime travel between America and France during the colonial period, do you think that eastern subterranean termites reached France during this period?