No doubt long-time SNL fans will be amused at the mention of the1970s sketch centered on an extra-terrestrial family’s struggles to adapt to Earth life, featuring Jane Curtain, Lorraine Newman and Dan Ackroyd. Like the pointy-headed family from the planet Remulak, conehead termites are also alien, an invasive species, introduced to South Florida via Central or South America or some Caribbean islands. Unlike the hilarious antics of SNL’s faltering and often confused Conehead family, these South Florida visitors aren’t funny at all.
Coneheads concern scientists in their potential to become permanent US pests
To date, conehead termites have been confined to “less than ½ square mile of residential, commercial and natural landscape area in Dania Beach,” in Broward County. More flexible and diverse than drywood and subterranean termites, coneheads readily adapt to a variety of habitats. Voracious eaters, these termites will devour dead wood of any type in a short amount of time in order to populate their colonies. According to Dr. Barbara Thorne’s 2015, Pest Control Technology article, conehead termites pose threats, not only to South Florida, but to other states, as well. Dr. Torne goes on to say that these fast-spreading termites display “tremendous potential for survival in a variety of structural and natural habitats across a broad geographic range, with decisive economic consequences if they become permanently established and spread.”
Conehead termites feast on dead wood from live trees, as well as many other wood sources
Consuming dead wood from dead or living trees, the conehead diet includes not only citrus trees, grasses, shrubs and roots, a concern not only for Florida’s agricultural and turfgrass industries, but for home and commercial property owners, as well. Coneheads may even share your home furnishing tastes, in an entirely different way than you do. Even cardboard and paper products are not immune to the conehead appetite. Hungry and highly destructive, conehead termites, if left to their own devices could cause extensive damage resulting in expensive repairs, not covered by your homeowner’s insurance.
Conehead termites are named for the dark, pointed heads of the soldier caste
Originally, when discovered in Broward County in 2001, coneheads were referred to as “tree termites” but this caused confusion, as Nasutitermes corniger isn’t confined to living and feeding in trees and by the fact that other termite species also live and feed in trees. Quite different in appearance from subterranean and drywood termites in South Florida, this invasive species was given the name, “conehead,” for the dark, distinctive teardrop or pear-shaped heads of the soldier caste. A sap-like substance squirted from the tip of soldiers’ heads acts to detain and deter lizards, frogs, birds, ants and other would-be predators from feasting on conehead termites, that can’t be bothered with tunnels and often crawl across lawns, like ants.
Smaller than other South Florida termites
Measuring just over 1/8 inch in length, conehead soldiers are just slightly shorter than the workers. Small, compared to Florida drywood termites, conehead workers and soldiers are around the same size as subterranean workers but somewhat shorter than subterranean soldiers.
Like South Florida’s Formosan and Asian subterranean termite species, conehead termites build foraging tunnels in the ground but unlike subterranean termites, conehead show-offs build extensive networks of half-inch brown tunnels on almost any surface, including 40 feet up tree trunks, inside structural walls, on the sides of houses and over roof eaves. These vast tunnel networks are often the first indication of an infestation.
Bent on colony expansion, conehead termite colonies expand rapidly
- With multiple queens and kings and a population of around 20-30% workers and soldiers, conehead colonies can expand in a fraction of the time it takes other types of termites to expand their colonies.
- Conehead termites build large, round, bumpy nests, in trees or in grass roots that can be as large as basketballs.
- Reproductive alates, identified by long black wings and black bodies are larger than other South Florida termite species.
- Conehead alates swarm, usually in May, forming shimmery, black clouds of tens of thousands of swarmers, from a single, large colony.
Conehead termite colonies can be tricky to spot in their early stages
After alates swarm, new kings and queens find secure places inside dead wood, where they grow their colonies, over the span of four years or more. Once grown to a sizable population, conehead termites build their extensive tunnel networks and ultimately, a primary nest, as well as satellite nests. This is how coneheads deceive homeowners. After eradicating mature nests and satellite locations, homeowners think their conehead termite infestation is a thing of the past. Not so fast, re-infestations can occur by maturing colonies that were hidden when the initial infestation was eliminated.
Conehead termites are so aggressive and opportunistic in their expansion efforts that Florida’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is intent on eradicating conehead termites in South Florida. The good news is that “these exotic termites build conspicuous tunnels and above-ground nests . . . that render colonies more vulnerable to discovery and possible eradication.” Constant and diligent monitoring for conehead activity helps in this effort to keep these pests from spreading. As a number of termites thrive in South Florida’s warm, moist climate, proactive homeowners are urged to contact a trusted pest control professional, such as Hulett Environmental Services, for a free termite inspection and get started with services to create a pest-free barrier around your property.
You can also help in efforts to deter termites and other pests by:
- Removing all debris and wood piles from your property
- Repairing water leaks and replacing damp wood
- Keeping gutters and downspouts clean
- Making sure water drains away from exterior walls and foundations
- Regularly monitoring your irrigation system
- Trimming shrubbery and tree branches away from your home
- Keeping mulch at least 6 inches from your foundation
At Hulett Environmental Services, our team of trained and certified termite specialists effectively and affordably defend your home and loved ones from the invasion of conehead and other South Florida termites. Locally-owned and operated, for three generations, with Graduate Entomologist, Tim Hulett, at the helm, our Healthy Home program protects your home and loved ones, with the highest quality, most environmentally responsible materials and methods on the market. For the most effective and convenient termite protection available for your home and lifestyle, contact us to schedule a free termite inspection today.