South Florida's Warm Winter Plus Recent Rain Equals Early Termites
From the Sun Sentinel
South Florida is paying a small price for the nice warm winter, and that's an unusually early appearance of termites.
Some homeowners have noticed clouds of what look like flying ants swarming in their homes and yards, as the wood-chomping bugs initiate their annual search for new places to colonize, experts said.
Chief among the early arrivals is a relative newcomer, an Asian variety of subterranean termite that immigrated here aboard boats and has taken hold in some waterfront pockets of South Florida.
"They are big eaters," said Rudolf Scheffrahn, a termite expert and entomology professor at the University of Florida research center in Davie. "The warm weather and the humidity from the recent rains tells them it's time to come out."
Scheffrahn said exterminators brought him the first samples of the year — from Palm Beach County — on Feb. 20, about three weeks earlier than usual.
Also, the bugs have been found in Plantation along the New River west of Florida's Turnpike, several miles farther west than they previously were seen, Scheffrahn said.
They're not the only bugs out early this year. Some exterminators said they have seen signs of ground-dwelling Formosan termites and more-common drywood termites, as well as several types of so-called white flies and some breeds of ants.
But the new kid on the block is Asian termites, related to but different than the Formosan breed that has been here for decades.
The Asian bugs have arisen most heavily in neighborhoods with canal and river access for boats, especially Hallandale Beach, eastern Fort Lauderdale, a few spots in southern Palm Beach County and near the Port of Palm Beach. They make nests in the ground and infiltrate into buildings, experts said.
They only need an opening of 1/32 inch to get past a home's concrete block, then head for the attic, said Greg Rice, a spokesman for Hulett Environmental Services in West Palm Beach.
A colony of subterranean termites can eat three to 11 pounds of wood daily, and contribute to three or four ceiling collapses every year, said Bart Bruni, owner of Bestec Exterminators in Hallandale Beach.
With no natural enemies, Asian termites are expected to continue spreading and become more common, Scheffrahn said.
All types of termites send out clouds of flying swarmers every year, generally in March through May looking for new places to start colonies. They're often mistaken for flying ants.
Homeowners should watch for clusters of wings that swarmers leave behind, generally in attics and near baseboards and building exteriors. Look for dirt dust that subterranean bugs leave behind on wood, and waste pellets resembling grains of sand left by drywood termites.
If you see the signs, get an expert opinion. Some good news: Despite recent rains, the dry winter may hold down termite swarms this year, said Brian Van Dam, operations manager at Hugh Turner Pest Control in Oakland Park.
The long-term prognosis for Asian termites? Said Scheffrahn: "How bad they will get hasn't been played out yet."
How to Fight Termites
Primary methods of keeping termites at bay:
- Treating the soil under and around the home with slow-acting, anti-termite chemicals — before the slab or foundation is poured if the house is new, or by drilling holes in the foundation if it's not.
- Installing bait stations in the ground around the home's perimeter, spaced a few feet apart, that can signal termites' presence and then distribute poison.
- Borate-treated construction wood is approved for drywood and subterranean termites; some companies offer post-construction treatments for drywood termites.
The choice of subterranean treatment depends on the home's builder or owner; neither is 100 percent effective:
- Chemicals in the soil must be applied by label directions to ensure termites don't find another way in, such as a crack in the foundation or barrier soil disturbed by landscaping. Soil treatments are supposed to last at least five years, perhaps longer, depending on conditions.
- Bait stations are plastic tubes that contain either cellulose to attract termites (they like to eat it) or chemicals to kill them (they take it back to the colony and eat it, too). Stations must be monitored to replace the cellulose or substitute poison.
Principal types of termites in South Florida
Native subterranean: Dark brown, 0.3 inches long including wings. Usually swarm in February and March, depending on weather, usually on a sunny afternoon after rain. Build shelter tubes on a foundation to connect the termite population underground with food sources above.
Formosan subterranean: Yellowish brown, 0.5 to 0.6 inches long, with small hairs on wings. Usually swarm at dusk and sunrise from April to June; usually found near windows, light fixtures and spider webs in well-lit areas. First found in Florida in Broward County in the 1980s. Can infest more than one building; build mud tubes from the ground upward to food sources.
Drywood: Dull, pale-brown head and body, 0.3 inches long including wings. Swarm in the evenings at the beginning of rainy season, usually May and June. Antennae are longer than their heads. Fecal pellets, which look like sawdust, often spotted beneath infested wood. They don't need moisture like subterraneans; often found in roofs, soffits and door frames. Sometimes called "powderpost termites" because of the telltale pellets.
SOURCE: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Department of Entomology and Nematology