A uniquely dangerous termite that tunnels up the sides of houses has turned up in South Florida, leading agriculture officials to organize a campaign to wipe it out before it can spread.
The Nasutitermes corniger termite, which is native to the Caribbean, lives above ground, builds brown tubes up the outside walls of houses and shows a particular taste for hardwood. The insect’s above-ground habitat means it would avoid direct competition with native, subterranean termites and raise the total number of termites that could live in the region by 25 to 30 percent, said Rudolf H. Scheffrahn, professor of entomology at the University of Florida.
“They forage on the open floor, which is something you don’t see unless you live in the tropics,” he said. “They love to eat hardwoods. They ate the handles off garden implements, rakes and hoes – turned them into shredded wheat. If this thing really keeps going, it’s going to be a problem for tropical Florida, from West Palm Beach to the Keys.”
A dozen field workers from the Florida Department of Agriculture on Tuesday will blitz neighborhoods in Dania Beach, the only city so far in which the termites have been found, treating 42 properties that harbor the insects. The termite’s beach ball-sized nests, made of termite excrement and constructed above ground, will be sprayed, as well as the foraging tubes running up trees and houses.
On Southwest 25th Avenue, where the termites have been found in several houses and trees, Martha Rosen said she and her husband first noticed strange dark lines going up the sides of their house. Soon they realized what was causing them.
“They got into the tool shed and ate our stack of firewood,” she said. “We went to pick it up and there was no wood left. They’re very aggressive. My trees look like they’re almost dead. ”
The species first showed up in Dania Beach in 2001. Aggressive spraying was thought to have eradicated it, but then it turned up last summer. They are thought to have originally arrived on wooden pallets brought from the Caribbean to a nearby marina, said Michael Page, chief of the Bureau of Entomology and Pest Control for the Florida Department of Agriculture.
Mark Fagan, spokesman for the state agriculture department, said the termite was found in the walls of the International Game Fish Association, just west of Interstate 95 and south of Griffin Road. Since then, he said, they have been found on 42 properties in neighborhoods for about a square mile around that site.
Fagan said the eradication work will take about four days.
The termites are ant-like in appearance. Unlike the 20 or so local species of termite, they can be seen crawling along the ground. If you think you have them on your property, call the Florida Department of Agriculture hotline at 888-397-1517.
“We’re trying to prevent another termite from being established,” Fagan said. “We’ve got plenty of termites in Florida.”
A single nest could harbor 1 million or more termites, Scheffrahn said. With the current infestation of 100 to 120 colonies, there are already more than 100 million of the termites in the area, he said.
He said “time is of the essence,” because any day the winged termites could take to the air to establish new nests.