by Linda Florea
For three years, Tarre Beach had lived in her 6-year-old Ocoee home with confidence in the termite baits the original owner had placed around the house.
Only she didn’t realize the “traps” needed to be checked at least once a year – until she returned home some weeks ago and found insects in the living room.
“I moved the couch and there were a ton of bugs – I didn’t know they were termites,” she recalled recently. “I sprayed along the window sill and outside – they were dying, and I cleaned them up, but more came out. They filled up about a 6-foot windowsill completely.”
Ideal conditions have triggered an unusual number of early-season termite “swarms” this year in Central Florida after several years of relative peace. Even during an average year, Florida’s climate is an ideal incubator for termites, which is why it’s one of the top U.S. states for infestations.
Roberto Pereira, an associate research scientist at the University of Florida’s Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences, said this year’s quick post-winter warm-up and heavy March rains are to blame for the surge in swarms. Among those hit: the institute’s building in Gainesville.
“Swarms have to have the right temperature at the right time,” Pereira said. “This year we did have the right combination.”
“In the last few years, there have been a lot less in terms of swarms than normal,” he added, in part because of drought conditions at the time. Pest-control operators complained about the dearth of business during the February and March swarming season for “native” subterranean termites, one of three types active in Central Florida.
But this year, swarm reports for native subterraneans were up about 50 percent, said Brian Keane, branch manager for the Terminex International Co. branch in Orlando.
“This is a real problem, and I think a lot of people take it lightly,” Keane said. “People tend to see a swarm in their house and don’t see the damage and kill the swarm and think they’re safe. Meanwhile, [termite] workers are behind the drywall tearing down their house. They don’t sleep, and they eat around the clock.”
The National Pest Management Association estimates that termites cause $5 billion in damage a year across the country. In Central Florida, the native subterranean usually swarms in February and March, during the day and usually after a rain; the Formosan subterranean, an invasive species referred to as a “super termite,” swarms on hot, humid evenings from April through May; and the drywood termite, which lives above ground and doesn’t need moisture but is not as prevalent as the subterranean, swarms in the evenings in May and June.
So is your home protected?
Gary Stanford, an environmental specialist with the Florida Department of Agriculture, which oversees pest-control operators, says the agency recommends that every home have a termite contract – preferably one with coverage that pays for any retreatments or repairs that may be required and covers subterranean and drywood termites.
Building codes require that a home be treated before a slab is poured, either with chemicals in the ground or bait stations in the topsoil for subterranean termites, but it’s up to the homeowner to extend that initial protection with something such as a termite contract.
When purchasing a previously owned home, the buyer should ask the seller for an active, assumable termite contract with a guarantee to keep the house termite-free or to re-treat and repair any damage. If such a contract isn’t in force at the time of the sale, the buyer should require a termite inspection and some form of treatment, along with a new contract.
Homeowners should obtain price quotes from several licensed companies before choosing one. Owners can check for problems with a pest-control operator by calling the Agriculture Department in Tallahassee at 850-617-7997.