UF Web Cams Give Curious Glimpse into Daily Lives of Ants and Termites

Roberto Pereira, left, adds a few drops of water to attract ants that appear on UF's Web cam
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The daily adventures of live termite and ant colonies are now available on two Web cameras at the University of Florida, giving viewers an inside look at what happens when these pests invade a home.

The Web cams watch the colonies around the clock and are meant for consumers, pest control operators, students and science teachers, and anyone else who wants to learn more about these common household pests, said Phil Koehler, an entomologist with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

UF entomology students also monitor the ant and termite habitats and blog about the activity for Web site visitors, said Koehler, who manages the colonies.

“The powerful Web cams look directly into the ant and termite colonies, and every 10 minutes the cameras zoom in for an up close and personal tour of each colony, showing the insects foraging and eating,” he said.

The ant colony, which contains about 3,000 insects, is in a small “movie set” that measures 18-by-24 inches to simulate a typical home setting, he said. The termite colony, which contains about 300 insects, is in soil behind a 9-by-9 inch glass plate.

Koehler said the Web cam shows how these termites build underground tunnels in search of food for their nest. When damaging a home, subterranean termites usually have two or three entry points. The camera shows where the termites are entering a house under a deck, he said.

The Ant Institute® and Termite Institute® Web cams, which became operational in March 2008 and now receive several hundred hits daily, are a joint venture between UF and the professional pest control group of North Carolina-based BASF Corp.

“The underlying philosophy for the Web sites is that informed consumers are more likely to make smart choices about the best way to protect their homes or structures from ants or termites,” Koehler said.

Koehler, who directs UF’s Urban Pest Management Laboratory, said home owners are concerned about anything that can affect their property value, and these two insects are the most troublesome household pests.

“Some visitors like the ant and termite Web-cam sites because they provide useful information for protecting their homes from these pests while other visitors say the sites are interesting or even entertaining,” he said.

Roberto Pereira, a research associate in UF’s entomology and nematology department, said ants are the nation’s No. 1 nuisance pest, based upon complaints to pest control operators.

Looking at the ants on the Web cam, a viewer would likely see foragers, who can lift 20 times their body weight, venturing out for food, while a set number of workers stay put, caring for the young and the queen, and defending against invaders, he said.

Koehler said termites, found in all states except Alaska, cause more than $5 billion in damage each year, and subterranean termites are responsible for 95 percent of that damage. Subterranean termites, including the more aggressive Formosan termite now spreading throughout the South, have underground colonies that usually contain hundreds of thousands of termites, depending on location and food availability.

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