Termite Spotlight: Subterranean Termites

Termite Spotlight: Subterranean Termites

South Florida’s unique tropical ecosystem supports more species of household pests than anywhere else. Most homeowners in South Florida know that they need to protect their most valuable investment from the heartache and financial headache of termite damage. Aside from the cost associated with termite damage repair, termite damage can decrease your home’s value and even worse, homeowner’s insurance doesn’t usually cover termite damage. Adding to the unpleasant subject of termites, for some homeowners, out of sight is out of mind. In the past, those termites you couldn’t see infesting your home, in out of the way places like your basement, needed a while to do any major damage to your home.

Enter Formosa and Asian subterranean termites

Well, times have changed. Since the 1980s and 90s, several invasive termite species are, as the University of Florida (UF) reported, “on track to infest over half the structures in South Florida by 2040.” It’s a sobering thought but these aggressive termites are voracious eaters on a mission to multiply. South Florida does have its own native subterranean termite species but the invasive Formosan and Asian subterranean termites leave those guys in the sawdust, building larger colonies, with millions instead of a few thousand members.

Invasive subterranean termites were most likely introduced to the US via shipping containers

Formosan subterranean termites: Coptotermes formosanus, the most widely distributed termite of economic concern gets its name from an early 1900 description of this species in Taiwan but is thought to be endemic to southern China. Reports point to accounts of Formosan termites in Japan before the 1800s and in Hawaii during the late 1800s. In the 1950s, reports of Formosans in South Africa were soon followed in the 1960s by instances in Texas, Louisiana, and South Carolina. Then, in 1980, a well-established colony was discovered in a condominium in Hallandale, Florida. Today, Formosan termites can be found in almost every urban area in Florida including Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties, according to the UF Entomology Department.

Asian subterranean termites: Coptotermes gestroi, similar to the Formosan termite is endemic to southeast Asia. Collected in 1932 in the Pacific, on the Marquesas Islands, as well as in the Indian Ocean’s Mauritius and Reunion Islands, in 1936 and 1957, respectively, Asian subterranean termites were first reported in Brazil in 1923 and in Barbados in 1937. Recently collected in West Indian islands, the list of Asian termite locations include all major islands in the Caribbean, the Bahamas, the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Cuba and southern Mexico. In 1996, Asian subterranean termites made landfall in the continental US in a storefront and church in Miami. 1999 found an Asian subterranean termite infestation in a Key West home.

Both Formosan and Asian subterranean termites are established in Broward and Miami-Dade Counties today, making these locations the only place in the world where these species overlap territories. Due to warmer temps, both species are swarming at the same time, leading UF researchers to keep a lookout for a new hybrid super-species.

Identifying subterranean termites

Native subterranean termites – Averaging 0.3 inches in length, including wings with dark brown bodies, native subterranean termite alates generally swarm February through March, usually after a rainstorm in the morning or around dusk.

Asian subterranean termites – About ½ inch in length, yellowish-brown in color with hairs on their wings, Asian subterranean termite alates swarm February to April.

Formosan subterranean termites – Yellowish-brown bodies with small hairs on their wings, Formosan termite alates, range in size from about ½ inch to a little over a ½ inch. Swarming occurs April to July beginning at dusk on calm and humid evenings.

Formosan and Asian swarms can be distinguished from native subterranean termites by the massive number of alates in prenuptial flight. The soldiers of both Formosan and Asian subterraneans feature a large forehead opening, known as a fontanelle, thought to be used for spraying a sticky substance to fight off predators.

Swarming may indicate termite activity

After termite alates swarm in order to find mates and start new colonies, they lose their wings and burrow into a quiet place to breed. Discovering discarded wings outside your home could be a sign to check further for termite activity. Alates are attracted to light so if you’re finding discarded wings on windowsills and near other light sources inside your home, you should contact a pest professional as soon as possible, as this may indicate a termite infestation.

Other signs of subterranean termite activity

Subterranean termites live in a network of nests under the soil outside your home. In order to access your home through wood to ground contact or through damp wood near your foundation, subterranean termites build mud tubes that worker termites use to transport wood from your home to feed the throngs of hungry termites in nests below. Invasive subterranean termite colonies can support multiple queens, building networks that contain millions of members.

With so many mouths to feed, invasive termites are much more aggressive than native subterranean termites and can destroy a home in a matter of months. Mud tubes running up the walls of your foundation indicate subterranean termite activity.

Contact a professional

Subterranean termites, especially Formosan and Asian termites, should be handled by professional, trusted pest control technicians. Hulett Environmental Services, a leader in South Florida pest control for over 45 years employs certified and licensed, entomologist-trained technicians that address your subterranean termite issues. Utilizing our IPM, or integrated pest management system, we use environmentally conscious approaches to pest control. Just call Hulett!

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