While termites have lived and thrived in the world for over two hundred million years, the truly destructive subterranean Formosan termites did not arrive in New Orleans until after World War II, probably on a ship traveling from Asia. Formosan termites have damaged millions of dollars' worth of property in New Orleans. Experts estimate that 20-25% of the trees in the city are infected with these insects. While Formosan termites live underground, they have also adapted to urban environments by nesting in trees, homes, and buildings. They burrow through trees and wooden construction materials alike, eating the wood from the inside out and causing structural damage.
While you are walking through the city, you may notice evenly-spaced green plastic or metal circles in front of certain properties, or small, gray, plastic plugs in the trunks of trees. These are termite bait traps. The termites eat the poisoned bait and then return to their nests to infect and kill their neighbors. It is estimated that the city of New Orleans spends over $100 million a year on termite control; and yet, many historic homes have been ravaged by these pests.
The French Quarter is the hardest hit of all New Orleans neighborhoods. In 2001, the U.S. Department of Agricultural instituted "Operation Full Stop" in order to reduce the Formosan termite's numbers while also reducing the amount of money the city and private citizens would have to spend to repair termite property damage. The Cabildo, which stands next to St. Louis Cathedral and was the location of the signing of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, was one of the first buildings to be treated by the termite bait unit system.