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[Emerging Species] New Opportunity?

Departments - Business Strategy, Business Strategy, Termite Control

Pest management professionals are on alert for Asian termites, which are expanding their presence in South Florida.

Brad Harbison | May 13, 2005

Pest control operators in South Florida are on alert for a new nuisance — Coptotermes gestroi, commonly known as the Asian subterranean termite.

University of Florida researchers are tracking the spread of this voracious termite species, which is similar to the Formosan termite. University of Florida Entomologist Rudi Scheffrahn told PCT that he and UF colleagues have confirmed Asian subterranean termite infestations in Key West, Miami-Dade County, Riviera Beach and Ft. Lauderdale.

Scheffrahn says this species was first discovered in the U.S. at a pawn shop near the Port of Miami in 1996 and that infestations in Key West started being reported in 1999. Reports of this most recent infestation in South Florida began surfacing earlier this year. Scheffrahn said fellow University of Florida researcher Nan-Yao Su identified a sample he received recently as an Asian subterranean termite.

Pest management professionals also began contacting University of Florida researchers. Ron Box, director of education and scientific affairs, Hulett Environmental Services, West Palm Beach, Fla., said five of his company’s technicians recently brought in samples that were identified as Asian subterranean termites. Box, along with Su, Scheffrahn and University of Florida Entomologist Dr. Brian Cabrerra, toured four different locations where these species were collected and live activity was observed. These sites ranged from homes to commercial facilities to an avocado tree. "This particular termite has been found and now looks as though its firmly entrenched in Palm Beach County," Box says.

Mark Weinberg, co-owner of Hammerhead Termite Control, Big Pine Key (Key West), Fla., said he first encountered Asian subterranean termites in 2003 at a home his company treated. Another infestation was discovered in 2004 and Weinberg reports that the termite infestations appear to be rapidly expanding. He says he’s encountered infestations at five to six houses this year.

Box said all of the infestations discovered by Hulett technicians came from a plot of land that encompasses areas just east of I-95 and as far east as US-1 with a south boundary of 45th Street and north boundary of Silver Beach Road. Box says Hulett only has treated one structure — a home with a floating slab. Expansion joints were drilled out and a traditional liquid treatment was performed using a non-repellent termiticide.

Box added that all of the Hulett customers who had these infestations were informed of the new species of termites and that Hulett’s sales personnel and termite technicians were briefed about this termite and given educational materials.

HERE TO STAY. Because of its tropical environment, South Florida is prone to invasions of foreign termite species. For example, the tree termite, Nasutitermes costalis, a pest commonly found throughout the Caribbean and South America which is now believed to have been eradicated, first started showing up in Florida in 2001.

Scheffrahn says the Asian subterranean termite is most likely here to stay for a number of reasons. Unlike the tree termite, the Asian subterranean termite is a more cryptic species, it will nest in areas that are more hidden and it will forage underground. Plus, this species is being reported in a variety of different buildings and in urban areas.

"By the time the Asian subterranean termite was discovered in Miami it was pretty well entrenched, so control efforts now shift from trying to eradicate this termite to managing it," Scheffrahn says.

Asian subterranean termites are closely related to destructive Formosan subterranean termites, which live in large populations, disperse quickly and eat wood at a fast rate. Damage resulting from these infestations can become severe in a relatively short time, especially when a structure is invaded by a large, mature colony.

Scheffrahn says the alates of Asian subterranean termites are darker in color than that of the Formosan species. However, he says the most significant difference he’s observed is that when Asian termite soldiers are disturbed they are more likely to exude a white, milky secretion from their heads. He says it takes more prodding for Formosan termites to exhibit this same type of behavior.

South Florida’s tropical climate and abundance of coconut palms gives this termite ample food and resources, Scheffrahn says. However, because the Asian subterranean termite is more temperate than other species such as the Formosan subterranean termite, Scheffrahn does not anticipate it spreading much further than South Florida.

The author is Internet editor for PCT magazine. He can be reached at