SOCORRO, N.M., January 23 , 2000 -- Dr. Daniel H.López, President of New Mexico Tech, announced today that research recently concluded at Texas A&M University had determined that Formosan termites (Coptotermes) are effectively repelled by materials created by the process discovered and patented by scientists at New Mexico Tech which molecularly bonds capsaicin, the natural "heat" of chile peppers into paints, stains, plastics and other rubberized substances. Bioassay studies using the chile based repellent with the Formosan termite were conducted under the direction of Dr. Roger Gold, Professor of Entomology, at the Center for Urban and Structural Entomology at Texas A&M University. The Center's earlier successful research on the efficacy of the repellent on subterranean termites led to the studies on the Formosan species.
Formosan termites are thought to have been accidentally introduced to America from Asia around the end of World War II in the wooden crates, boxes and other materials that returned in the holds of military cargo vessels. Now found throughout the southern Continental United States and in Hawaii, the Formosan termite is responsible for an estimated $2 billion in damage in New Orleans alone over the last ten years. They are now considered a threat to California with the strong potential for invading the Northeast. Voracious feeders with aggressive behavior, Formosans eat wood about nine times faster than the native subterranean termites and their colonies typically number up to 2 million workers, about ten times the size of the more common species. Unlike the vast majority of the approximately 2400 known termite species, the Formosan termite will attack live trees.
Dr. López said, "It is very exciting for us to have these latest test results from Texas A&M. To learn that this most aggressive and destructive insect species is so effectively repelled by materials created by our discovery is a very positive development."
Grady J. Glenn, Texas A&M Entomologist and Termite Researcher, stated, "We were very pleasantly surprised at the avoidance behavior exhibited by the Formosan termite when introduced to materials into which capsaicin had been bonded. Like the subterranean species in the earlier studies, if given a choice the Formosan would flee the area containing the experimental material and stay away. The Formosan typically will not avoid even lethal substances, instead sacrificing members of the colony to get beyond the offensive material. I am certain the people in Louisiana will be very interested."
The bioassay study procedure introduced the Formosan termites into environments containing wood treated with various combinations of control materials, experimental materials, soil and water. When provided with a choice of wood treated with experimental material or one of the alternate materials, the insects moved from the experimental material each time. When given no choice but the materials into which the essential oils and capsaicin of Habanero had been bonded, the result was total avoidance. As with the earlier research, pure corn oil and raw linseed oil were used as control and host experimental materials for the bioassay evaluations.
The Center for Urban and Structural Entomology is a division of the Department of Entomology at Texas A&M University, and has gained international recognition for its research on termites, fire ants and other destructive insects.
The patented process discovered by New Mexico Tech has also been used to create effective repellents for rodents and other terrestrial animals, zebra mussels and other freshwater and saltwater nuisance species, various other insect species and wood boring birds. (See