John Howell editorial 6/3/2014

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Termite swarm season too close and personal for J. Monque’D

Hurricane season started Sunday. That attracts media attention in New Orleans and anywhere else that within recent institutional memory has been taught a lesson in vulnerability.

But I’m still hung up in termite swarming season, the mating time for the Asian or Formosan termite when clouds of the insects fill the air on certain humid nights of May in New Orleans.

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When they are not mating, these transplants from Southeast Asia prefer — like their native Subterranean cousins who have always been here — to lead private lives, voraciously eating away woods of their choice.

The transplant termites are like the native Subterraneans on steroids, multiplying faster and building larger colonies. They were with impunity eating away French Quarter buildings until the USDA and pest control companies developed baiting systems that have slowed their spread.

At our house on Laurel Street, an annual termite inspection once found them in the large, beautiful crape myrtle tree in our neighbor’s yard near our front corner. Two other termite-riddled trees have since been cut down on our short block. (That’s another difference between the transplants and the natives. The transplants will invade living trees, eating them from the inside out.)

Another annual inspection found that Red Oak planks in a fence about three feet from the side of our house was thoroughly inhabited by the creatures. They will eat a painted board until there’s nothing left but the paint and you can poke your finger through it.

A few weeks ago, I found some eating on some other old boards in the shed in our backyard. We’re surrounded. I just hope we have not been invaded.

Which is what happened to J. Monque’D last week. They swarmed inside his apartment. J. Monque’D is our long-time neighbor and veteran blues singer who vocalized his alarm over the termite invasion with the same volume of projection that he uses on the stage at Jazz Fest. It was loud.

J. Monque’D blamed it on Frank, the owner of the house next door, who is gutting the house for remodeling. He accused Frank of displacing the insects.

More likely, the termites have developed a nest in J’Monque’D’s apartment that he rents from Robert and Gail, who live in the other side of the double. When those termites swarm on the inside, they have usually created an opening from which to escape their woody confines in the walls. Robert and Gail were out of town and missed the swarm, so J. Monque’D directed his complaint to everyone whom he happened to encounter that evening. 

Moans and shrieking were heard coming from his apartment as the winged alates swarmed around, landing everywhere, including all over him. It was not unlike Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 suspense thriller, The Birds, except that it in the movie it was birds that swarmed.

I’m sure that Robert and Gail got an earful when they returned home.

Termite swarming season should be over. A few of the swarming alates will have successfully paired, found suitable habitat, and will be starting new colonies.

Hope it’s not at our house.