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Tree termites terrorize Florida residents

Posted On: 11/30/2012

State officials are taking action against nasutitermes corniger, a Caribbean species of termites that is destroying trees, walls and ceilings throughout South Florida.

Unlike many of their relatives, nasutitermes corniger build basketball-sized nests above ground and dig visible brown tunnels on the sides of houses, which can cause serious damage for homeowners. While Department of Agriculture officials thought they eradicated the pests when they first turned up in Dania Beach in 2001, the termites showed up again last year, according to Sun Sentinel.

The organization is currently planning pest control initiatives to eradicate the species before spring, when nasutitermes corniger fly around to form new colonies and increase their populations.

Barbara Thorne is a professor of entomology at the University of Maryland and is helping plan the campaign.

"Certainly all of South Florida could be at risk, up into Central Florida," Thorne told the newspaper. "Once this gets out, there will be no containing it, ever. So we're trying to deal with this now."

While a similar campaign took place last year, officials said it wasn't as successful as they had hoped.

Nasutitermes corniger, or tree termites, which are native to rainforests, are beneficial to their home environment because they eat dead wood on the exterior of trees. However, these pests can wreak havoc in residential areas. They destroy outer frameworks and materials used to build walls and structures. Tree termites can also severely damage roofs. Often, wood infested by this species requires replacement. To avoid mounting renovation costs, homeowners should contact a pest control professional promptly if they suspect tree termites.  

Spotting an infestation
While a ballooning nest may be an obvious sign of infestation, the early starts of a nasutitermes corniger population can be difficult to detect, as they build large colonies before establishing a home. These bugs present an especially serious threat because they don't nest underground or compete for space resources with other termite species. A home is therefore at risk of infestations from above and below, Department of Agriculture officials explained to Sun Sentinel.

Florida officials say pest control experts are able to identify these critters. If residents spot insects around their house, they can put a sample in a bag and bring it to an exterminator for evaluation. Tree termites are about 3 to 4 millimeters in length and have cream-colored bodies and dark brown heads.

Homeowners who suspect a nest or tunnels on their property should take a picture and show it to a professional as soon as possible. One expert told The Miami Herald tree termite nests often resemble wasp nests.

Protecting the home
There are several measures residents can take to protect their home from a tree termite invasion. As they come from a tropical climate, nasutitermes corniger are attracted by moisture and humidity. While wetness may be difficult to control on outside walls, residents can ensure their roofs aren't leaky and repair any water damage immediately following rainfall.

Because these termites forage on the ground, homeowners may also consider monitoring moisture in their yard and eliminating brush buildup to prevent any potential problems with the bugs.

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