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Drywood termites hit the bay area hard

This summer is shaping up to be a great season for the wood-loving insects that live in dead tree branches and homes.

But the recent termite explosion doesn't bode nearly as well for you.

"The swarms hit real hard this year in Tampa Bay and the phone rang off the hook," said Eric Hobelmann, a sales representative for Dow AgriSciences, which manufactures a popular gas fumigant.

Entomologists don't know why this year is worse than others, but happy exterminators say they've been besieged with calls.

Many are booked two to four weeks in advance, a welcome respite from a slow period caused by the housing market. Fewer home sales mean fewer termite inspections.

"It's pretty much like our Christmas time, and this year everybody's spending money," said Jim Kearney, owner and president of Battleline Termite and Pest Control in Largo.

Kearney has had triple the amount of work — about 15 or 20 jobs since May — than he did this time last year.

Chuck Gates, owner of Apple Pest Control in Dade City, has been in the pest control business for 43 years. It's the busiest drywood season he has seen in more than a decade.

He described a community hall in Zephyrhills where the floor and window sills were covered in dead bugs and wings, which termites shed before entering cracks in wood.

"They were just so thick throughout the whole building," Gates said. "It looked like it had snowed."

This year's swarms are likely the result of a combination of relatively plentiful rain, warmth and an accumulation of colonies that probably formed years ago but went unnoticed.

"People think it's particularly bad this year, but it could be something that started 10 years ago," said Nan-Yao Su, a professor of entomology at the University of Florida.

It takes five years for a drywood colony to produce winged "swarmers." They fly in pairs to a spot of damaged wood to mate and form a new colony. They usually emerge in the evening and are attracted to light.

Lost wings a sign

Often homeowners don't realize they have an infestation until they find the discarded wings.

"That's when most people know they have a problem, when they see the insects flying around their house, and they start freaking, and then my phone starts ringing," Kearney said.

James Rosson, 52, is a former exterminator.

But his reunion Friday with his old work buddies wasn't a happy one. Rosson's apartment on Druid Road East near downtown Clearwater was infested.

Kearney said Rosson lives in the middle of what he calls "Termite City," an area that has been particularly hard hit.

"On a scale of 1 to 10, it's a 10," Kearney said.

Rosson and his roommate, Ricky Taylor, 46, drank beers as they watched Kearney's crew tarp their home Friday afternoon.

A gas chamber

Twelve pounds of gas fumigant, 6,000 square feet of tarp, $1,000 and two hours later, their home will become a gas chamber from which no crawling thing will escape.

"We can kiss them plants goodbye," Rosson told his friend. "I guess you ain't bringing Mom no roses."

The entire state is a hotbed for drywood termites, but they particularly like the Tampa Bay area for its warmth and humidity.

The plus side, if there is one, is that drywood termites are less destructive than subterranean termites

To get rid of them, exterminators can use spot treatments or tent fumigations, which vary in cost depending on a home's size.

Termites infest about 100,000 homes in the state per year, said Su, the UF professor.

He estimates that termite control costs Floridians roughly $1-billion a year.

"If you're building a house in Florida, you will eventually get them," Su said. "There's no way of avoiding it."

Warranty important

Exterminators recommend that homeowners keep an active warranty to keep critters out.

If homeowners find wings around the house, an extension agency can identify if they belong to termites or winged ants, which are less expensive to treat.

There are about five common species, and some of them have not yet begun to swarm, said Phil Koehler, an entomology professor at the University of Florida.

They tend to die off around July, though the season can last through October.

"There's no telltale yardstick to indicate whether it will be a longer or shorter season, but when they stop, they stop," Kearney said.


• Fecal matter that looks like sand is an indicator you may have termites.

• If you find wings, take them to an extension agency so they can identify the insect. Winged ants do not damage wood.

• The best method to be completely rid of drywood termites is tent fumigation. The cost varies depending on the house, but the average home is about $1,000.

• Once your home is fumigated, keep the warranty active. Drywood termites are prevalent in the area.

Drywood termites

The colony: Drywood termites, which swarm in the summer, make their home inside dry attic framing, which has low moisture and no contact with the soil. They are social insects that live in colonies composed of kings, queens and soldiers.

The kings and queens are the reproducers of the colony.

The nymphs, or immature termites, are the most numerous, and perform the work of supplying the colony with food.

Soldiers defend the colony from predators such as ants and spiders.

Swarmers fly away to establish new colonies. Pairs of males and females fly short distances to a dry wood source, enter through a hole or break in the wood and start a new colony.

Sources: Terminix, Louisiana State AgCenter

By the numbers

5,000 - 10,000

Number of drywood termites
in a colony


Number of homes infested by termites in Florida every year


Amount Floridians spend annually for termite control (does not include repair)

$300M to $400M

Amount spent on drywood termite control

Drywood termites hit the bay area hard 06/29/08 [Last modified: Friday, July 4, 2008 1:51pm]
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