Agriculture Termites Invading Urban Lawns in South Central Texas

Writer: Paul Schattenberg, 210-467-6575,paschattenberg@ag.tamu.edu
Contact: Molly Keck, 210-467-6575,mekeck@ag.tamu.edu

SAN ANTONIO -– Termites traipsing through turfgrass in urban areas of South Central Texas are most likely no cause for alarm, said a Texas Cooperative Extension expert.

“If you see termites in your lawn, there’s a good chance they are what are known as agriculture or desert termites,” said Molly Keck, Extension entomologist for Bexar County. “These are not the same as subterranean termites, which are the kind that do serious damage to homes and other property.”

Agriculture termites are usually found in large fields in rural areas, she said. They are most attracted to pasture areas used for grass or hay production, especially coastal bermudagrass fields.

“These termites are generally found in a more arid and dry climate like West Texas,” Keck said. “But they’re fairly common in South Central Texas too. Normally they’re prevalent in rural areas, but we’ve been seeing a lot more of them in urban areas.”

Agriculture termites are being found in urban areas such as San Antonio because the drought has forced them closer to the soil surface in search of moisture and nourishment, she said.

“Unlike subterranean termites, which usually feed on dead wood, these termites prefer live forbs, weeds and grasses,” Keck said. “They eat soft plant tissue, and in urban settings they feed almost exclusively on grasses.”

Agriculture termites can be found on all types of turfgrass in the South Central Texas area, she said. But while they look almost identical to their subterranean counterparts, there is one significant behavioral difference.

“They build mud tubes on grass blades and weeds,” she said. “These tubes give them protection against predators and heat. And while almost all termites build mud tubes, subterranean termites don’t build them on grasses or other soft plant material.”

Agriculture termites in urban areas pose no threat to structures, but in large numbers can damage or destroy turfgrass and may require control. In addition, Keck said, when they may require control when found in grass- or hay-producing rural areas.

“If control is needed, people in urban settings should use a pesticide labeled specifically for termites,” she said. “Those in rural settings should look for pesticides labeled for use in the appropriate location and which contains Malathion as the active ingredient.”

Mud tubes should be broken up using a rake or heavy chain before the pesticide is applied, she said.

Because agriculture and subterranean termites look so much alike to the untrained eye, people who are uncertain as to the type of termite they have on their property should consult a professional for identification, Keck said.

“Homeowners can either call a pest control professional or bring a specimen of the termite to the local Extension office for identification,” she said. “Identification at the Extension office usually takes about five minutes and is free.”

The Extension office in Bexar County is at 3355 Cherry Ridge Dr., Suite 212, in San Antonio. The phone number is 210-467-6575.

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