UF entomologist identifies exotic new termite in South Florida
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Add an exotic new termite to the growing list of invasive pests gnawing their way across Florida.
A new termite, described as “ant-like in appearance,” has been identified in Dania Beach by a University of Florida entomologist who says the pest nests and forages at or above the soil surface. By contrast, typical subterranean termites build nests below ground and look whitish in color.
Although it’s not as destructive as the Formosan “super termite” now spreading throughout the Southeast, the new wood-feeding pest is capable of causing widespread damage in above-ground structures, said Rudolf Scheffrahn at UF’s Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center.
“The termite is so new that we do not have a common name for it,” Scheffrahn said. “The species is Nasutitermes costalis, and it’s the first time this type of termite has ever been found in the continental United States.”
He said the no-name termite is a common arboreal species in the Caribbean and probably found its way to Florida on a ship. The pest does not occur in the Bahamas, but it is found in Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica and the Caicos Islands.
Scheffrahn, a professor with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, said the termite’s foraging and flight behavior indicate the pest has been incubating in the Dania Beach area for at least 8 years. He said the tropical termite species eventually could spread as far north as Orlando and Tampa. The natural spread would require decades, but people can spread the pest much more rapidly.
Mark Weinberg, general manager of Cobra Termite Control in Lauderhill, Fla., discovered the pest last month during a routine home inspection. Puzzled by the unusual termite, Weinberg asked Scheffrahn to identify the pest. Scheffrahn said the infested area in Dania Beach is about 500 feet by 400 feet and includes a single-family home on a large wooded lot with many trees and ground nests.
The house has been fumigated and a soil barrier chemical has been laid down, killing all termites in the structure, he said. However, reinfestation is a strong possibility because the total termite population on the site probably is in the millions.
“Chances are, the termite already has spread to adjacent properties in the Dania Beach area,” Scheffrahn said. “To find out how widespread the problem is, we are seeking permission to inspect neighboring properties.”
He said the termite apparently does not respond to chemical baits, but research is needed to confirm that or develop new control methods.
Formosan and other subterranean termites build their nests underground, but the new termite builds mound nests on the ground or in trees. Dark brown foraging tubes radiate from the nests to feeding sites, including buildings, other wood structures and trees. Soldier termites secrete a turpentine-like chemical to ward off ant predators.
Scheffrahn said the new pest is the third exotic termite to become established in Southeast Florida during the past six years. Other termites introduced include the highly destructive Formosan termite, found in 1980, as well as two other Caribbean subterranean termites, C. havilandi and Heterotermes. Florida now has a total of 20 different termite species, split among subterranean, drywood, dampwood and now an arboreal type.
“As with other exotic, non-agricultural pests, there are no federal, state or local guidelines to implement a quarantine or control program,” he said.
“Residents who suspect their property may be infested with the new termite should contact a professional pest control operator.”