Forest Service Termiticide Testing Program

Scientists “grow” termites on logs for termiticide research. Photo by Craig Bell.

Termites cause an estimated $5 billion in damages in the United States every year. In the South, where termite damage is legendary, proof of treatment for the insects is often required before a home can be sold.

Many people assume that termites are just urban or suburban pests and are surprised to learn that the Forest Service does termite research, but termites are really forest insects whose turf humans have invaded; theyre just doing what theyve always done as beneficial forest insects—decomposing wood, recycling carbon into soil and litter.

The termite team based in the Southern Research Station (SRS) Insects, Diseases, and Invasive Plants unit in Starkville, MS, is responsible for testing all candidate termiticides (pesticides specifically used to kill termites) to be marketed in the United States, where all termiticides must be registered by Federal and State regulatory agencies.

The present-day Termiticide Testing Program got its start in 1935 as the first insect research project in the Southern Forest Experiment Station (now SRS), with much of the early research conducted in cooperation with the U.S. military. In the 1940s, the Station pioneered research on the soil-applied termiticides that are routinely used today. 

In the 1970s, termiticides became one of two groups of insecticides (along with public health insecticides such as malaria sprays) requiring product performance data (how well they work) for registration. Because the Forest Service had developed an international reputation working on termites, and had the infrastructure, including land, to conduct the research, the agency became involved with testing termiticides for Federal and State registration

The SRS termite team, led by entomologist Terry Wagner, tests repellent and nonrepellent termiticides, chemically impregnated barriers, and other termite control products. Prior to registration, products typically undergo 2 years of laboratory screening and 5 years of field testing at sites in Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, and South Carolina. Hundreds of products have been evaluated over the decades. Most actually fail the registration process; this benefits the American public by keeping ineffective or unsafe products off the market.

In addition to providing efficacy data for product registration and labeling by Federal and State regulatory agencies, the termite team conducts other applied and basic research on termite biology, ecology, and behavior—both to determine the effects of control tactics on the insects and to better understand how termites affect forest ecosystems and productivity.

Read the 2011 Termiticide Report.

For more information: Terry Wagner at twagner01@fs.fed.us

Access the latest publications by SRS scientists.

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