Termites Bugging South Florida

Pests could literally eat you out of house and home

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You know those scientists in The Far Side cartoons, the ones who wore white coats, big glasses, funny hats, and studied bugs?

Bill Kern is nothing like those guys, except for the part about studying creepy, crawly, disgusting bugs. Dr. Kern is an entomologist at the University of Florida's research center in Davie, and he genuinely loves talking about insects, mostly termites.

"They do all of their damage undercover, so that's why it's hard for people to see it," Kern said, talking about subterranean termites. "And they literally can have hundreds of thousands, if not millions of termites that will come in and start feeding and it's conceivable that you can have an entire wall of your house eaten out in a matter of months."

Comforting thought, especially since right now, subterranean and several other varieties of termites are swarming in South Florida. Kern shows us the colonies he keeps in plexiglass terrariums. The subterranean guys are the sneakiest. They literally burrow into your house from underground colonies, building their own tunnels to get inside.

"These are impressive engineers," Kern said, showing off the tunnels laced all through the inside of the glass. "These mud tubes, they actually construct them with soil and they cement it all together with their feces and saliva."

Of course, it's the old poop, dirt, and spit combo, the oldest building trick in the insect playbook. So if you see brownish-gray, long, thin tunnels on your exterior or interior walls, you've got subterranean. Call the exterminator.

Dr. Kern says it's a good idea to have your home inspected for termites once a year, because sometimes, subterraneans leave no visible clues that they're inside chowing on your wood.

Dry-wood termites, on the other hand, will often leave tell-tale droppings in your home. They'll be in a pile that looks something like sawdust, but the grains are very regular-shaped. Those are the kind of termites killed by one of  those giant fumigation tents. Subterraneans are unaffected by tenting, because they live underground. Exterminators kill them by planting bait, which the termites eat, carry back to their nest like an unwitting Trojan Horse, and the colony dies.

Killing them is the easy part. The hard part is finding the subterraneans before they eat you out of house and home.

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