UF Scientist Solutions Widespread Questions, Appropriate Misconceptions About Termites

UF Scientist Answers Common Questions, Correct Misconceptions About Termites

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Termites are swarming in South Florida. Scientists from the University of Florida have been observing this in Fort Lauderdale since the last week of February. In the rest of the state, termite activity will kick in from mid-April to early May while spring is in full swing.

“March through June is when termite activity is most visible, which means it’s a good time to be vigilant and let termites examine you,” said Thomas Chouvenc, assistant professor of urban entomology at UF/IFAS Fort Lauderdale Research and Education center.

Chouvenc conducts research year-round in his lab in downtown Fort Lauderdale, where he works with thousands of colonies containing more than 25 million termites. In the same center is Rudolph Scheffrahn, professor and curator of the UF Termite Collection, which includes over 41,000 colony specimens from around the world. Together they work together to conduct termite research and provide resources for the pest control industry and the public. In the spring especially, they encounter and respond to a wealth of misinformation being circulated in the community about the species and treatments.

“With 20 established termite species, Florida leads the state in the diversity of these wood-destroying insects,” Chouvenc said. “This is a big problem because with the activity of drywood termite species and underground termite species, it creates a lot of confusion about how to prevent termites and how to treat them.”

As an added measure, here’s some chewing information from Chouvenc.

Q: I came across a winged termite in my house. Does this mean I have an infestation?

A: Florida termite season is underway and searching for winged termites can let you know if you live in an at-risk area. If winged termites are found in a home, it does not mean there is an actual infestation. Termites might have flown in from outside after being attracted to the light in your home. However, if you see multiple areas where wings have accumulated in different parts of your home, a proper inspection should be conducted to assess a possible infestation. Then it’s time to contact a pest control specialist.

Q: Are all termites the same in Florida?

A: Not all termites are the same. From March through June, many Floridians experience the mating season of one of three invasive species and should prepare accordingly. Here are some differences to note.

Some drywood termite species can infest a single piece of wood. The wood does not have to touch water or the ground. Each small, isolated colony produces feces year-round, coming out of cupboards, window sills, or other wooden furniture. From March through June, you’ll see winged termites flying and crawling into structures to find a mate and a new piece of wood to infest, leaving their shiny wings behind.

Underground termites are completely different. They need access to water, so they establish underground colonies. They can grow into millions of individuals and infect trees and structures from the ground up. There are two types of underground termites that are active at different times. In March, the Asian subterranean termites develop their winged form and initiate their large swarming events, which can be visible during sunset on warm days. In late April, the Formosa subterranean termite begins its swarming events.

Q: What proactive measures to take against termites?
A: First, determine if you live in an area at risk for any of these species. A public interactive termite distribution map produced by UF/IFAS lets you know if there are termites in your neighborhood and what species.

Second, if you find termites, contact your pest controller to have them identified. The University of Florida offers free services that allow you to submit samples and confirm species identification to help you or your pest control company determine what termites you may have.

Finally, once termite identification is confirmed, treatment can be applied.

Q: Is tenting the only treatment for termites?

A: Termite treatments differ depending on what type of termite you have found.

For drywood termites, spot treatment can be used to eliminate the colony if the infestation is limited to a single piece of wood. However, if multiple colonies can be found in one structure, tents and fumigation are the most cost-effective solution. Because drywood colonies are small and take time to do much damage, the homeowner may choose to schedule structural fumigation as they see fit.

Subterranean termites can infest trees and structures. Finding mud hoses between the ground and the structure can reveal an early infestation. These species can quickly cause a lot of damage, and early detection is key to avoiding damage. Because only part of an underground termite colony can infest a structure, fumigation is useless to them, as the rest of the colony can retreat immediately after the tent is removed. Instead, underground termites can be prevented from infesting structures by using underground termite bait or a liquid termiticide treatment. Each of these methods has different modes of action, as baits eliminate colonies that feed on them, while liquid termiticide temporarily excludes colonies from an area.