Dry wood termites on the rise in the Tampa Bay area this year

It's like a 911 center at Emergency Pest Patrol Inc. in Tampa. Twice as many homeowners as in previous years call to complain of swarming bugs.

At Haskell Termite & Pest Control Inc., fumigation treatments (the ones with the big tents over the whole house) have reached 25 a day — 10 above the usual. Calls for service have reached 100 a day.

And pest control giant Terminix says its calls for new inspections and service in the area shot up more than 200 percent in the last four days.

The trouble (or sometimes only the fear): swarming dry wood termites.

The Tampa Bay area is home to multiple types of the critters. The two of greatest concern are the subterranean termites (which generally swarm earlier in the year between February and mid to late April) and dry wood termites (which swarm from mid April to June or even as late as July).

The swarming insects are looking for new opportunities to build nests and breed.

This year, subterranean termites, which build nests in soil, seem to have been held at bay, perhaps because of the long, extremely cold winter. But the dry wood termites, which can nest in various areas of a home, seem to be booming.

"The dry wood season took off two and half weeks ago," said Terminix regional services manager Joe Garland, who has battled the pest for 19 years in the Tampa Bay area. "We're pressed. . . . I know all companies are ramping up."

Added Brad Haskell, owner of Haskell Termite & Pest Control: "It definitely seems like it's busier than last year and the year before."

Some of the problem, though, isn't termites at all.

"Lots of times it is ants," said Wayne Rudolph, who takes calls and sets appointments for Emergency Pest Patrol.

What's the difference?

Ants have three segments to their bodies — a head, body and end. Termites have a head and a single, elongated body.

Ant swarms have added to the influx of calls, but everyone the Times contacted agreed there's an uptick in the termites swarming this year.

"Dry wood termites are a problem in Tampa," said Mike Page, bureau chief for entomology and pest control in the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The reason for the increase in swarms isn't entirely clear. It's not necessarily something that happened this year. It could be the effect of conditions set in motion years ago.

It takes several years for a dry wood colony to produce winged "swarmers." Often homeowners don't even know they have a problem until they see a bunch of discarded wings.

Page noted that improvement in treatments could have kept termite populations down in recent years. That would make any increase more noticeable.

An effective process to kill termites is fumigation, which requires the pest control company to drape a tent over the entire house. The exterminators use toxic gas to kill the bugs — and it kills most anything else in the house during the process.

So every living creature you want alive must be removed — people, pets and all.

"It's a very dangerous way to do pest control," Page said. "Families have got to move out."

The process costs from $1,000 to $5,000, depending on the size of the house.

If you suspect termites, Page says don't panic. Pest control companies offer termite inspections for free, and any problem there might be isn't going to destroy your home overnight.

"I know the idea of some insect eating their house is unsettling," Page said. But "the house is not going to collapse in three weeks."

Ivan Penn can be reached at ipenn@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2332. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Consumers_Edge and find the Consumer's Edge on Facebook.

Ridding a home of dry wood termites

. If you suspect termites, get an inspection, which are offered free by pest control companies. As with any major service, you should get three estimates and research the company before signing a contract.

. Remove wood piles from around your house. Wood piles can attract and provide breeding ground for termites, which if sitting next to your home could cause an infestation.

. Allow time for treatment. If you require fumigation to rid your home of termites, that process requires as much as two to three days. You will need to leave your home and take your pets and food with you. Anything living in the house will be killed during the process.

Identifying a termite problem

Lawyer Pete Cardillo, who specializes in termite claims, offers the following tips for identifying termite problems around your home:

. If you see lots of bugs flying inside or around your house, that may be a sign of a termite swarm. Keep in mind that flying ants are often mistaken for termites. A quick way to tell the difference is that termites have straight abdomens; ants have a narrow "waist" between segments.

. Look for sagging or bowing walls inside your house, which could be a sign of termite damage hidden behind the wall. Look for the small, transparent wings that termites shed.

. Small, drinking-straw-width tubes of mud on the outside of walls also may be evidence of termite infestation.

. Wet or deteriorated wood, or curious dust around windowsills, can also be a telltale sign of termite activity.

Dry wood termites on the rise in the Tampa Bay area this year 06/09/10 [Last modified: Thursday, June 10, 2010 1:40pm]

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