Native to Florida? No. The Formosan subterranean termite is native to Southern China and was first detected in Florida in 1980 in Hallandale, in Broward County. The species is now established in all of Florida’s major metropolitan areas. To see a current infestation map that’s regularly updated, visit http://flrec.ifas.ufl.edu/termites-in-florida/termite-distribution/.
Big Money Associates: Florida is home to three noteworthy native subterranean termites; the best-known is the eastern subterranean termite, Reticulitermes flavipes. These insects can damage structures but pose a less dire threat than the Asian and Formosan subterranean termites.
In recent years, another invasive subterranean termite has been detected in South Florida. Known as the Asian subterranean termite, or Philippine milk termite, this species has the scientific name Coptotermes gestroi, and is closely related to the Formosan subterranean termite. However, the Asian subterranean termite favors tropical conditions and has thus far been found only in South Florida. Part of the Asian subterranean termite’s range actually overlaps with the range of the Formosan subterranean termite, which prefers sub-tropical and temperate conditions.
South Florida is one of three places on Earth (the other two being Taiwan and Hawaii) where both species exist in the same place, and the situation has led to interbreeding between the termites. UF/IFAS researchers have been monitoring this situation, and are studying the hybrid termites that result when the Formosan and Asian species mate successfully. Though the hybrid’s potential impact is still unknown, experts fear that it may display a phenomenon known as “hybrid vigor” and be better suited to survive than either of its parent species. If the the hybrid were hardier or quicker to reproduce, for example, it might prove to be more destructive or more difficult to manage than the Formosan or Asian subterranean termite. However, UF/IFAS researchers have not collected enough data to make definitive statements on the threat the hybrid poses.
Interesting Fact: The largest known Formosan subterranean termite colony was found in a Louisiana public building, and contained an estimate 70 million termites.
Estimated Repair Costs in Florida: A large but undetermined fraction of the estimated $16.6 billion spent nationwide annually to repair damage caused by all termite species. The $16.6 billion figure is an estimate developed from 2010 data on pesticide sales; the actual figure in 2016 is probably slightly higher.
Estimated Management Costs in Florida: A large but undetermined fraction of the estimated $3.3 billion spent nationwide annually on management efforts for all termite species. The $3.3 billion figure is an estimate developed from 2010 data on pesticide sales; the actual figure in 2016 is probably slightly higher.
What Is UF Doing About It? Fortunately for Florida home and property owners, one of the world’s foremost authorities on subterranean termites is a long-time faculty member at the UF/IFAS Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center. He is Dr. Nan-Yao Su, a distinguished professor with the UF/IFAS Department of Entomology and Nematology. Together with colleagues at Dow AgroSciences, Dr. Su developed a revolutionary approach to management of subterranean termites, which employs underground monitoring stations where foraging termites encounter appealing baits that containing a slow-acting compound that prevents immature termites from molting and kills them.
The technology was incorporated into the Sentricon® subterranean termite colony elimination system, which reached the consumer market in 1995 and has now protected more than 3 million homes in 18 countries and pre-empted the use of 9,000 metric tons of insecticide. The system is only available through licensed pest-management providers; when used properly, it poses no threat to people, pets, wildlife or water quality. Since reaching the market, Sentricon® has earned more than $29 million in royalties for UF, making it the third most valuable intellectual property ever developed at the university.
Su and his post-doctoral associate, Thomas Chouvenc, continue to research subterranean termites in South Florida, and are particularly focused on the hybrid Asian/Formosan termite that was identified recently, and may pose a serious threat to structures in South Florida.
Other UF/IFAS termite experts, including Rudolf Scheffrahn, Phil Koehler and Faith Oi, contribute to the UF/IFAS effort to research destructive structural termites of all types, update industry professionals, and educate Florida residents, particularly property owners.
What Can YOU Do About It? If you own a home or any other structure in Florida, educate yourself about the Formosan subterranean termite, the threat it poses to structures in this state, and options for protecting your investment. You can learn more in the posted to the Bug Week website.
For more information about the Formosan subterranean termite, see this “Featured Creatures” document produced by the UF/IFAS Department of Entomology and Nematology.
For more information about the Asian subterranean termite, see:
For more information on native subterranean termites, see: http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/urban/termites/native_subterraneans.htm