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Termite season: UF/IFAS scientist answers common questions, corrects misconceptions

Swarming season is middle April to early May in Central Florida

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Termites are swarming in South Florida. That’s what University of Florida scientists have been observing since the last week of February in Fort Lauderdale. The remainder of the state will see termite activity kick in from the middle of April to early May while spring is in full swing. 

“From March to June, termite activity is the most visible, which means it is a good time to pay attention and have a termite checkup,” said Thomas Chouvenc, an assistant professor of urban entomology at the UF/IFAS Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center.

Dr. Thomas Chouvenc in lab at the Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center (FLREC) on Tuesday, January 25, 2022.
Dr. Thomas Chouvenc in lab at the Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center (FLREC) on Tuesday, January 25, 2022.

Chouvenc conducts year-round research from his laboratory at the Fort Lauderdale center, where he works with thousands of colonies of more than 25 million termites. In the same center are Rudolph Scheffrahn, professor, and curator of the UF Termite Collection, which includes over 41,000 colony samples from around the world. Together, they work together to conduct termite research and provide resources to the pest control industry and the public. Particularly during spring, they come across and respond to an abundance of misinformation that rears its head throughout communities about the species and treatments.

“With 20 established termite species, Florida leads the country in diversity for these wood-destroying insects,” said Chouvenc. “This is a big problem because, with the activity of drywood termite species and subterranean termite species, it leads to much confusion on how to prevent and how to treat for termites.”  

Research Stock Photography in Dr. Thomas Chouvenc's lab at the Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center (FLREC) on Tuesday, January 25, 2022.
Research Stock Photography in Dr. Thomas Chouvenc's lab at the Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center (FLREC) on Tuesday, January 25, 2022.

For added measure, here are a few bites of information to chew on from Chouvenc.

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

A: Termite season is underway in Florida and looking for winged termites can inform you if you live in an area that is at-risk. If winged termites are found in a house, this does not mean that there is an actual infestation. Termites may have flown from the outside after being attracted by the light inside your home. However, if you see multiple areas where wings have been collected in different parts of your home, then a proper inspection should be performed to assess a potential infestation. That is when it is time to contact a pest control specialist.

Q: Are all termites in Florida the same kind?

A: Not all termites are the same. From March to June, many Floridians will 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 doesn’t need to be touching water or the ground. Each small, isolated colony produces droppings seen year-round coming out of cabinets, windowsills, or any other wood furniture. From March through June, you will see termites with wings flying into structures and crawling to find a mate and a new piece of wood to infest, leaving their shiny wings behind them. 

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

Q: What are some proactive measures to take against termites? 

A: First, determine if you live in an area at-risk of one of these species. A public interactive Termite Distribution Map produced by UF/IFAS will let you know if there are termites in your neighborhood and what type. 

Second, if you find termites, contact your pest control operator to have them identified. The University of Florida offers free services that let you submit samples and confirm species identification to help you or your pest control company verify which termite you may have. 

Finally, once the termite identification is confirmed, treatment may be implemented.

Q: Is tenting the only treatment for termites?

A: Termite treatments differ depending on which type of termites you may have found.

For drywood termites, a spot treatment may be used to eliminate the colony if the infestation is localized to a single piece of wood. However, if multiple colony infestations can be found throughout a structure, then tenting and fumigation is the most cost-effective solution. Because drywood colonies are small and take time to do a lot of damage, the homeowner may decide to schedule structural fumigation at their convenience.

Subterranean termites can infest trees and structures. Looking for mud tubes between the ground and the structure can reveal early infestation. These species can produce a lot of damage rapidly and early detection is key to prevent damage. Because only a portion of a subterranean termite colony may infest a structure, fumigation is useless for them, as the rest of the colony can move right back after the tent is removed. Instead, subterranean termites can be prevented from infesting structures by using subterranean termite baits or a liquid termiticide treatment. Each of these methods has different modes of action, as baits eliminate colonies that feed on it, while liquid termiticides temporarily exclude colonies from an area.

The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) 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 brings science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries and all Florida residents.
ifas.ufl.edu  @UF_IFAS

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