GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Subterranean termites cause about $32 billion in damage worldwide. In fact, researchers with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences predict two of the most invasive subterranean termite species will expand their destructive range; meaning half the structures in South Florida will be at risk of infestation by the insects by 2040.
During National Invasive Species Awareness Week, UF/IFAS researchers urge residents to have their homes inspected for termites and seek appropriate treatment. National Invasive Species Awareness Week is held Feb. 26 to March 2 to raise awareness of pests and efforts by scientists to manage them.
“Formosan subterranean termites are already problematic in many urban areas of the Southeastern United States. However, with the more recent spread of the Asian subterranean termite, it portends even more trouble for Florida,” said Thomas Chouvenc, assistant professor of urban entomology at the UF/IFAS Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center.
Six invasive termite species are now established in Florida, and among these, the Formosan subterranean termite, the Asian subterranean termite and the West Indian drywood termite pose particular concern for residents and the pest-control industry because they cause most of the structural damage, Chouvenc said. Asian and Formosan subterranean termites contribute in large part to the cost associated with termite damage and control globally, he said.
The Miami-Fort Lauderdale area, with about 6 million residents, represents the only location in the continental U.S. where the distribution of Asian and Formosan termites overlap. Asian subterranean termites stick to South Florida, venturing north only as far as Palm Beach County. But the Formosan termites are found from Miami to Charleston, South Carolina, Chouvenc said.
“The damage to south Florida is already concerning; but the termite presence, which results in property damage, is still increasing,” Chouvenc said. “We need to provide area-wide termite management programs that could provide a long-term, sustainable solution for communities.”
Chouvenc also observed that both Asian and Formosan termites have the ability to mate and potentially create a new, hybrid species. In a study by Distinguished Professor Nan Yao-Su and Chouvenc in 2015, researchers found that hybrid colonies could be even more problematic than their parental species.
“Currently, our team is investigating the biological attributes of such hybrids to determine their potential threat to structures, their potential spread, and also trying to determine long-term consequences if gene flow occurs in the field between the two species,” Chouvenc said.
The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at ifas.ufl.edu and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.