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The eastern subterranean termite species (EST) is the only termite pest that dwells within Massachusetts. Unfortunately, this termite species causes more damage to structures than any other termite species within the United States, and they are particularly prevalent throughout Massachusetts. Many residents of the state have witnessed EST swarms during the early summer, and many homes in the state are vulnerable to termite attacks. Today, all states have passed legislation concerning the control and prevention of termite infestations. For example, most states require construction contractors to follow specific architectural designs that make homes less likely to sustain termite damage. These laws have reduced the frequency of termite infestations in Massachusetts homes and buildings substantially. However, preventing termite attacks on the many historical structures that exist in Massachusetts is probably the most significant termite-related concern in the state today. But nearly 150 years ago, termites owned Massachusetts. An 1876 report on termites (white ants) in Massachusetts described the wood-eating insects as having an ubiquitous presence within the state.

Termites were everywhere in Boston, its suburbs and much of the rest of the state during the late 1800s. At the time, the seasonal termite swarms could not be missed by residents, and descriptions of these swarms, as well as the public response to them, were published in newspapers regularly. Upon witnessing a termite swarm, some Boston residents would become excited and enthusiastically chase the winged termites whenever they emerged. It was difficult to find a tree stump, a dead tree or a fence that was not infested by termites. Residents used to collect termites from these sources, and an infested wooden fence that surrounded the Cambridge Observatory was well known as being the easiest location to capture termites. Termites were also numerous within the Cambridge University Botanical Garden where it was not uncommon for people to witness massive clouds of winged termites (alates) take form over the campus. During this time, insect experts were largely ignorant of the full destructive capacity of termites, and many average residents were completely unaware that the insects can destroy timber-framed homes. But it did not take long for residents to identify termites as the cause of structural failures.

Do you believe that termites pose a serious threat to the historical structures in Massachusetts?