Has there ever been a documented case of a pest control company breeding termites and secretly releasing them into neighborhoods for their own profit motives?
This question seems kind of off-the-wall. Do you suspect that a pest control outfit might have done that in your neighborhood?
I don’t think they would need to do that, because termites are already pretty ubiquitous.
I will tell you a related story, as told to me by a PhD biologist who worked for my state’s Dept of Natural Resources, he was the one who discovered this problem.
Long ago when Iowa was encountering its first outbreak of Dutch Elm Disease, the state tracked the disease spread carefully. As trees were removed, they were tracked and mapped. The spread of the disease was slow, they wanted to slow it even further, but to their horror, small outbreaks of DED were being discovered far away from any other outbreak. Something or someone was spreading the disease beyond the range it would normally reach.
Dutch Elm Disease is spread by some sort of spore, it lives in symbiosis on the skin of a common beetle that lives pretty much everywhere. If the spore is present, it will spread via the beetles, but if the spore isn’t present, the beetles are basically benign. Someone suspected that infected beetles or infected wood containing beetles were being distributed by unknown means to areas outside the outbreak. Infected wood from cut trees were embargoed and not allowed to move outside the county they were cut from.
But all of this was to no avail. The disease was still spreading, in the baffling pattern of new pockets far beyond any previous infection. After some further research, the culprit was discovered: the local tree surgeons. It turned out that when the infected trees were cut, the spores would stick in the oil on the chainsaws. When the tree cutters moved to a new job in a different county, they were taking the spores with them. When they cut down trees, the spores would spread via the oil, and be picked up by local beetles, and the cycle began again. Surely the tree surgeons didn’t mean to spread the disease, but they surely benefitted financially (albeit inadvertently) from its spread. The DNR instituted new rules for cutting infected trees, including disinfectant methods for chainsaws, etc. But by then it was too late, the disease was everywhere.
I work for Terminix, so I’m probably the most authoritative voice here, or one of them, at any rate.
To answer your question, I don’t know of any documented cases of a company doing this, but I can tell you a couple of things that would reduce the probability.
1 - As CurtC pointed out, it really isn’t necessary. Termites are everywhere. (Almost. I think Alaska and places like Montana and North Dakota are pretty much termite-free zones.) But most of the United States has one or more species of termite wreaking structural havoc. All the treatment we can render is barely going to put a dent in the overall population.
2 - At least in the case of Eastern Subterranean termites (the most common throughout the US), transplanting a colony from one place to another in the hopes of creating some business would be an expensive flop. Termites don’t live in the wood they’re busy destroying, you see, they live in the ground, travelling from the colony to the food source (i.e. the wood) and back again. In effect, the house (or stump or fence post or yesterday’s Wall Street Journal) serve as the little termite bodega. They come and go on a regular basis, but they always return to the colony, which may be up to 80 feet away. Dumping a baby food jar full of termites in somebody’s closet or garage will only result in a bunch of dead termites. Termite colony members have very specific jobs and reproductives cannot replace soldiers or workers or kings or queens and vice versa throughout the whole social structure of the colony. Individual workers cannot reproduce to start a new colony. If isolated from the support of its colony, a termite will die.
3 - Even if colony transplantation were a relatively easy thing to do, there’s no guarantee that they would find the house any time soon. Termites forage blindly, literally bumping into their food. There would always be the chance that a competitive food source would be discovered first, and the house that was the intended target wouldn’t get infested for maybe 6 to 10 years after the transplant. Or maybe never. You just can’t tell.
4 - Where would the termite company put the colony so it would eventually find the house? Termites can forage up to 80 feet in any one direction, so it has to be fairly close. So the person’s property would be the most logical place. Well, the colony also has to be situated below ground and further down than the frost line, so the termites don’t freeze to death in winter. In southeastern New York State, where I live, that means digging a hole in someone’s yard at least 4 feet deep and placing the colony there without the homeowner being aware of it. You’d have to work pretty darn fast, too, because termites are a soft-shelled insect that will die with too much exposure to sunlight or air.
5 - If termite company A dumps a termite colony on Joe Blow’s lawn and Joe gets an infestation, what’s stopping Joe Blow from paying termite company B to take care of it? It just doesn’t guarantee anything, when you really examine it.
The scenario you wonder about just ain’t gonna happen. Ditto for most other pests, mostly because of reason #1 above. There’s just no need for the industry to “create” infestations which they then go out and fix.
As is CurtC, I’m curious why you thought of this question. Did someone leave a flyer on your door that says something like, “Your neighbors have termites. You may have them, also. Call our toll-free number to arrange for a free termite inspection.”? This is merely a marketing tool. We in the industry know that if one house in a neighborhood has termites, then there’s a good chance that others do too. It’s called “cloverleafing” and yeah, it can lead to more sales. But it’s not a contrivance, it’s merely knowledge of our field.
If you did get one of these flyers, then I would strongly recommend you get an inspection. Heck, get three companys to come out and take a look so you won’t feel like you’re being railroaded. And do research on your own. Lots of universities have extensive information on termites, and you can rest assured that they have nothing to sell you.
Almost anything you can think of, no matter how “off the wall” has probably happened at one time or another in real life. But I have no knowledge of this ever actually happening. It’s just something I’ve thought about for a long time as a hypothetical conspiracy scenario.
I believe it happened on an episode of King of the Hill once. So it stands to reason that it happened in real life.
We just sold our house a month ago. The buyer insisted on getting our home inspected for termites. I said, “No problem.” I knew we didn’t have any.
Boy was I wrong. I later found out that termites had gotten inside and ate some of our base trim. They ate clear through, but only up to the paint (I guess they won’t eat paint). I could push my finger right through the trim. “So that’s what those flying ants were,” my wife said.
My advice to anyone who thinks they don’t have termites: get your home inspected now, before it’s too late. We ended up having to pay a termite company $1200 to drill through our slab every 16 inches, and the deal almost fell through.
Crafter_Man, your story is typical. Sad to say, but I’ve seen this happen more times than I can tell.
If you’re buying a house, get it inspected by a professional in the pest control industry. The other inspectors are engineers and know about structural engineering stuff and electricity codes and whatnot, but often they don’t know about termites.
If you’re currently a homeowner, get your house inspected by a reputable company. Usually it’s free, and even if you have to have the house treated, it’s less expensive the earlier you get it done. Home repairs ain’t cheap, especially to important structural members like sill plates. Don’t assume you don’t have termites; you rarely see them unless you open up a wall or actually know what to look for.
This is a job for professionals.