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Termite season is coming in Florida : Be proactive to protect your home, trees

DAVIE, Fla. — As spring weather makes its way in March, termite mating season is around the corner, with winged termites taking flight. Termites cause $5 billion a year in damage to structures across America, so it’s important to be aware of them and know how to find and fight them.

Scientists at the UF/IFAS are studying the different termite species that impact structures and trees in Florida, in order to get ahead of these wood destroyers. While termites are often noticed during their swarming activity, colonies are actually always active and it is important to be proactive year-round in Florida to reduce the potential for damage to your home and trees and save money in the long run.

“The termite problem is changing in Florida. With some invasive species spreading, we are entering a new norm in terms of potential termite damage” said Thomas Chouvenc, an assistant professor of urban entomology at the UF/IFAS Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center in Davie. Chouvenc specializes in termite biology and pest control. “Florida’s year-round, warm climate has allowed three invasive termite species to thrive, cause structural damage to our homes and property, while some species are now having a concerning impact on our urban tree canopy.”

However, each termite species is controlled differently and if you find termites, it is important to first identify them correctly before taking any action, if needed.

Coptotermes gestroi, more commonly known as Asian subterranean termite, is a very damaging species and a threat to wooden structures threatening our tree canopy in Florida.

Starting early March, South Florida will witness large swarms of the Asian subterranean termite, an invasive species that has a tropical distribution, and these swarms take place at dusk, as flying termites are attracted to lights and live trees.

“Asian subterranean termites have been established in south Florida for only 20 years, but they have been spreading to numerous localities making them increasingly problematic,” Chouvenc said.

Asian subterranean termites can establish their nest in large live trees, and colonies can reach several million termites. More concerning, Asian subterranean termites are not finicky eaters, Chouvenc said.   They have no preference on the tree species they feed on, nor the age or size of the tree.

The problem takes place with colonies undetected in trees, giving them time to grow, and the opportunity to expand their foraging territory in the ground.

The Asian subterranean termites can reach a house through the soil as a mature colony with high potential for damage, Chouvenc explained. Therefore, while structures are at risk, trees are also taking a hit.

“Indirectly, we are in the process of irreversibly losing the quality of our urban tree canopy because we are losing trees that we cannot replace as termites set up their colonies and feed within the trees,” he added. “You can’t replace a 75-year-old pine tree or oak tree that has completely lost its structural integrity and is becoming a hazard.”

In a recent study, Chouvenc demonstrated how trees infested by Asian subterranean termites are increasingly at risk of breaking and collapsing during hurricanes.”

If you find Asian subterranean termites flying in your community, this implies that your house and trees are potentially at risk. UF/IFAS Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center manages and monitors an interactive map at https://flrec.ifas.ufl.edu/termites-in-florida/termite-distribution/.  Through this live map, Florida residents can see the distribution of all termite species, and its history in their residential area around the state.

Monitoring for termite activity and damage is a critical first step to early detection and preventing damage to trees and houses, Chouvenc said.  There are currently two primary ways to protect a structure against subterranean termites: baits or liquid termiticides. However, in a study published in 2018, Chouvenc observed that the two treatments have different impacts on the termite population, and Chouvenc has since been engaged with the pest control industry in Florida to address potential issues with current practices.

While liquid termiticides can provide temporary protection of a structure, it does not eliminate subterranean termite colonies and the potential for damage remains. Baits, if

As of 2019, the distribution of this Formosan subterranean termite in the United States includes Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.

used properly, eliminate colonies that are able to feed on trees and properties.

Another invasive termite problem in Florida is the Formosan subterranean termite. This species will start its swarming activity in late April to early May, and has now spread to many other locations across the state. They are similar in their biology and feeding habits to the Asian subterranean termite.

West Indian drywood termite is the most widespread drywood termite in the tropics worldwide, and in the United States is common throughout Hawaii, Florida, and some coastal regions of the Southeast. In some cities along the gulf coast, notably, New Orleans, Galveston, and Corpus Christi, are also afflicted with heavy resident populations.

Finally, the West Indian drywood termite swarms will become active in April. Drywood termites have a fundamentally different biology than subterranean termites and must be considered as having a completely different impact on properties. Their pest management requires a different approach than prescribed for subterranean termites. Drywood termites establish small nests inside a single piece of wood they infest, such as structural wood or furniture. Winged termites have iridescent wings and colonies produce what is known as frass, a coffee-ground-like dropping, that is typically found around windowsills. Such evidence are the first signs of drywood termites. Currently in Florida, structural fumigation is the primary approach to deal with drywood termite infestations.

If termites are found, property owners should seek expertise to first determine what type of termite they have in their homes. Homeowners commonly misidentify a flying ant as a termite or vice versa, or misidentify the type of termite species they have in their home. “You need to know what termite species you have before you seek treatment,” Chouvenc said.

The termite team at UF/IFAS Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center regularly receives samples from pest control companies and homeowners throughout the state for identification and to record new ones. The identification service is free to all who submit and also enhances the research the team conducts every day. Residents and property owners are asked to send termite samples to be identified by the termite team at the Fort Lauderdale center and to determine if structures could be damaged by the pests. Instructions for how to submit samples can be found here: https://flrec.ifas.ufl.edu/termites-in-florida/send-samples/ .

For more information about the termite team, current research being conducted by UF/IFAS, and general information on termites, please visit https://flrec.ifas.ufl.edu/termites-in-florida/

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