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Ugh! The city is suffering from an infestation of termites
From:Shine  |  2020-06-11 14:29

Exterminator Liu Chong applies termite-control drug at a household on Yanqing Road on Wednesday.

Termites are a bit like cockroaches. The mere thought of them makes people squeamish, even frightened. Small wonder, then, that a wave of termite infestation triggered by the current sultry weather in Shanghai is unsettling residents.

Resident Xiong Fangyu, who lives in the Jing'an Temple area, said she was almost reduced to tears by swarms of the flying insects.

"They are a real nightmare for me," Xiong told Shanghai Daily. "I see huge numbers of them flying in the corridor and under plane trees when I walk outside to dump my garbage. I thought they were moths at first sight."

Recent studies suggest that termites actually evolved from cockroaches in the distant past. And, like cockroaches, they are among evolution’s most formidable survivors.

"When I walk to the food store, they fly around my hair and body,” Xiong said. “I saw termites flying toward the food when I bought snacks at a streetside shop, and the operator asked me to leave because the shop was closing early due to termites."

She added, “I almost cried when I got home and felt an itch on my face. I spotted a bug when I removed my face mask. It frightened me."

Xiong said she and her boyfriend disinfect their clothing when they return home.

"I did not dare to open a window when I want some fresh air for fear of seeing a termite squeezing through the screen," she said. “When I wake up in the morning, I see termite wings stuck in the window gaps.”

Termites feed mainly on dead plants, wood, leaf litter, cellulose and animal dung. They are often called “white ants” because of their appearance, but they are not scientifically classified as ants, though their colonization patterns are similar. Indeed, ants are a chief predator of termites.

Angela Luan, who works in an office building on Yan'an Road M., said termites are everywhere at her office.

"When I left my office on the eighth floor, I found two on my clothing,” she said. “It was disgusting.”

Although there has been no official municipal announcement that this year's termite invasion is worse than usual, many residents are convinced it is.

"I have been living on the 11th floor for nearly 20 years, and this is the first time I have found termites in my home,” said Zhang Ruiyi, a meteorologist with the Shanghai Meteorological Bureau.

“I have a battle overnight to get rid of them,” she said. “This year's infestation is crazy, and it’s probably because of the weather. A warm winter, when the temperature didn’t drop below zero, allowed them to survive, and the current humidity worsens the situation."

Zhang Shengqi, director of the Xufang Greenery and Termite Control Center in Xuhui District, offers little hope for exasperated residents.

"The termite invasion outbreak started in late May and will last until around July 10," he said. "The peak is due around the plum rain season, which is known for damp, sultry weather. These pests favor a humid environment."

The start of plum rain season was officially declared in Shanghai on Tuesday, a bit earlier than usual.

Numbers of calls to pest control has climbed to at least 10 a day and may well surge to 40 or 50 soon, Zhang said.

Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Wood at a household on Yanqing Road is rotten because of termites.

As early as March, the bugs were spotted in huge numbers in old wooden buildings across the city.

That month, the city's property management authorities released a list of 54 professional termite exterminators whom residents could turn to for help.

Zhang said he recently received a call for help from a household on Yanqing Road. It was a small, old apartment built in the 1920s. It has a narrow stairway to the kitchen on the ground floor, where a storeroom teemed with termites.

"There were so many termites flying about that we took photos of them and asked the center for help,” said a resident surnamed Sun. “We have been trying to use insecticide to eradicate them.”

The termites were feasting on the door frame, window frames and a mounting table for the electricity meter in the storeroom. Once they have chewed through those, they passed into other rooms, like a bathroom.

Even the downstairs office of the property manager needed spraying for termites, Zhang said.

Such a serious infestation poses risks because the secretion of termites can start a fire, he added.

Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Termites are seen flying at Sinan Mansions.

Zhang gave residents some advice.

“Termites like to fly around from dusk to about 10pm, when people turn on the lights at home,” he said. “When a wave of termites fly into houses to breed, people should use electronic swatters or insecticide to kill them.”

It’s good to know the enemy.

Termites prefer humid, warm and quiet places. The best way to avoid home infestation is to keep windows closed, experts said. But termites are capable of squeezing through gaps and cracks in concrete to get inside, so barrier strips can be installed under door sills and in wall gaps. Timber products and packaging brought in from outside should be checked closely.

People are advised to get professional help in destroying termite nests, not attempt it themselves.

The Shanghai Housing Management Bureau said termites are primarily a problem in downtown districts such as Huangpu, Xuhui, Yangpu and Hongkou. However, in the January-May period this year, households undergoing termite extermination dropped 17 percent from a year earlier to 3,028 households, the bureau added.

In the 1950s and 60s, the city's campaign to kill termites reached a peak. The application of comprehensive anti-termite agents in the 1980s brought numbers down significantly, the bureau said.

Since then, however, global warming, an increase in urban greenery and wider use of timber in construction and decor have all improved the living environment for termites, the bureau said.

At the same time, the bureau has halted use of some termite-control chemicals because they are not environmentally friendly. Less harmful agents are not as effective, said the bureau.

The municipal agency said a campaign to educate the public about termite prevention and control will be stepped up.

Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Exterminator Liu Chong applies termite-control drug at a household on Yanqing Road on Wednesday.

Yongjia, Anfu and Huaihai roads — home to large numbers of old wooden structures — are among the worst-hit neighborhoods for termites, according to the Xufang Greenery and Termite Control Center.

"Old villas with wood-and-brick structures are a favorite habitat of the pest," said director Zhang. "We have received calls from the landlords of expats in some of these villas seeking help. Some termites in the area have established colonies in streetside trees, parks and gardens.”

Zhang and his colleagues were recently called to an old villa built in the 1930s in Hunan Road Subdistrict.

"We found that the wooden beam was gnawed at the villa," said Zhang. "If residents spot large numbers of flying termites at home, it means the bugs have established colonies there."

The Shanghai Greenery Management Station affiliated to the Shanghai Greenery and Public Sanitation Bureau said it is spraying for termites on roadside trees and using technology to track down their nests, which are often found inside architecture, trees or soil. The bureau said the insects can kill trees by hollowing them out, raising the risk of them being toppled over by strong winds.

In March, the destructive bugs were spotted in Jiading District at Guyi Garden, a classical Jiangnan-style garden dating back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Chemical sprays and powder were applied to about 20 ancient buildings and 30 trees. Killer bait was buried underground as well.

"Some old houses inside the garden are brick-and-wooden structures, and they are close to water," said Sun Jia, an employee at the garden. "The lush greenery provides a perfect shady habitat for termites. Some greenery has been seriously damaged by the bugs."

The garden is conducting a three-year campaign against termites to root out their nests, she said.

The Shanghai Housing Management Bureau has reminded residents to keep indoor areas dry and clean. Garbage that attracts termites should be dumped, and residents should avoid piling items on stairs and in dark corners, the bureau said.

Wooden items in home should be checked for infestation, and people can also install window screens as a precaution, it said.

Residents spotting termite movements can dial the 24-hour 962-121 hotline for assistance, the bureau said. The hotline had received 1,369 calls seeking help as of the end ofMay.