Pest service ranks Mobile No. 1 in nation ... for termites

Article repurposed from http://www.al.com/news/mobile/index.ssf/2017/03/mobile_ranked_no_1_in_nation_f.html

Turn out the lights, shutter the windows, bar the doors and try, as much as possible, to separate your house from contact with the planet: Terminix has ranked Mobile No. 1 on a new list of termite-troubled cities.

Suddenly spring doesn't seem so attractive, does it? Not as one remembers that the swarms are coming.

Actually, though, the Terminix study doesn't focus on Formosan termites' annual aerial diaspora. And calling it a "study" might be giving it a scientific sheen it doesn't deserve. The company says the results are based on "termite-specific data from more than 300 Terminix branches across the country" in 2016. Basically it's a ranking of who complained the most to them about termites last year. It's only predictive insofar as you'd expect patterns to repeat - which, in Mobile, they do.

The second most curious thing about the list, after Mobile's No. 1 ranking, is that New Orleans isn't in the Top 15 at all.

New Orleans! New Orleans, where the federal government mounted a comprehensive, multimillion-dollar campaign to save the historic French Quarter from termites. New Orleans, where Formosan termite swarms have been massive enough to show up on weather radar. It's not even in the Top 15, which includes Philadelphia.

Both points seem believable, said Bill Finch, scientific advisor to the Mobile Botanical Gardens and a longtime Mobile-area environmental writer. Mobile's high ranking and New Orleans' absence could stem from a single contrast, he said. It could be that "New Orleans, finally, takes termites seriously. Mobile, not so much."

Translation: New Orleans does have termite-friendly conditions, with a warm and wet coastal climate and plenty of historic wood buildings. But maybe the city has stepped up to the threat and gotten better about taking preventive measures. If so, Finch said, that would explain why the Terminix hotline in New Orleans didn't ring off the hook with termite calls last year.

"New Orleans should be worse," Finch said. "Orlando (No. 7 on the list) should be worse. But construction techniques and vigilance may be higher there."

Mobile got to be No. 1 on the list by racking up a lot of service calls last year. Finch thinks that might be because Mobilians haven't gotten serious about preventive measures. He said he thinks modern construction practices aren't stringent enough, and that's compounded by a "lack of vigilance in general by homeowners."

Lack of prevention and alertness means people end up freaking out when termites finally do get their attention. But it's not all perception, Finch said.

"By no means does that suggest Mobile does not have a huge termite problem," Finch said. "Mobile does have a huge termite problem."

The climate is a definite factor, he said, and on that point everyone can agree.

"We consistently see higher levels of termite activity in the southern United States, particularly in and around coastal cities where the weather is damp and humid -- the perfect environment for a growing termite colony," said Paul Curtis, manager of technical services for Terminix.

The cities that made the list are Mobile, San Antonio, Memphis, Tampa, Miami, Los Angeles, Orlando, Jacksonville, Dallas, Baton Rouge, Houston, Oklahoma City, San Diego, Philadelphia and Little Rock. Obviously that includes a few that aren't Southern and coastal. Finch said the results might be skewed not only by the amount of complaining Terminix customers do in any given city, but by how much local market share Terminix has in that locale.

Still, it's no wonder Florida has four cities on the list. The state is so termite-friendly that it has five more invasive species munching along in the Formosans' wake. And if that thought gives you the creepy crawlies, then you definitely should skip the next few paragraphs.

If the Terminix rankings promote completely unfounded fears that a terrible termite year is ahead, another industry source offers some equally speculative validation. Pest Control Technology magazine recently reported that many industry observers are expecting 2017 to continue a profitable trend.

According to a survey in which PCT was a partner, bed bug business was up 31 percent in in 2016. Ants and rodents were up 18 and 13 percent, respectively, with an 11 percent increase in termite work. Cockroaches kicked in for 8 percent. That's to say nothing of mosquitos and ticks.

"You pretty much can bank on the phone ringing for bed bugs now every year," said one exterminator quoted in the PCT story. In context, it was a statement of business optimism. Out of context, ew.

So what's to be done? Terminix says there are some things homeowners can do, aside from hiring a pest management service. (And if you're looking for one, they have a few thoughts on who'd be good for the job.)

Their tips:

To prevent termites from chewing through their wallets, homeowners should be on the look-out for signs of an infestation, including termite droppings, discarded wings, hollow or damaged wood, and mud tubes -- pencil-sized dirt tunnels -- near the bases of homes.

Prior to encountering one of these signs, there are several preventive measures homeowners can take to help reduce the risk of an infestation.

Trim all shrubbery near home exteriors to allow airflow and quickly dry damp areas

Use products such as synthetic mulch or pea gravel when landscaping

Properly maintain home exteriors to prevent water from leaking into wooden siding and windows

Ensure crawl spaces are properly ventilated to minimize the amount of moisture around floor joists and subflooring