If you see piles of the tiny pellets along the baseboards or window sills that are the telltale signs of a drywood termite infestation, be patient.
Exterminators around Tampa Bay say 2016 is shaping up to be a nasty year for termites, with some unable to set up appointments for home tenting until November and after.
"It's extremely busy," said Brad Haskell, owner of Haskell Termite & Pest Control in Tampa. "We're feeling bad because we think we're losing business. But people in the industry are saying the same thing. I've talked to the distributors, gas sales are up, just everybody is booked. There's nothing you can do."
Blame a combination of heat, humidity, and the Tampa Bay area finally bouncing back from dry conditions over the past several years, said Deby Cassill, a biology professor at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.
"Because we've had three years of relatively wet weather, there's just an explosive population growth, which we had not seen in the last 15 or 20 years because of drought," Cassill said. "The wetter the better and the warmer the better, and we are in just ideal conditions."
Drywood termites — as opposed to subterranean termites, which live underground — can be spot-treated for isolated infestations. But for a widespread invasion, fumigation is typically the answer.
Extermination crews drape tarps over an entire structure to seal it, and poison gas is then released inside. Fumigation preparation, treatment and aeration can take up to three days, and all humans and pets must be out of the house during the procedure.
Haskell's company typically sets appointments roughly two weeks from an initial phone call during the summer swarming season. This year, by the beginning of August, he was already booked through September.
Frank Mongiovi, head of Best Termite & Pest Control in Tampa, said he's booked through November.
"It's busy, and it's been like this for the last couple years, anyway," Mongiovi said. "Maybe not as severe, but last year was also a busy year. It's just climate conditions and a cycle that it will follow."
Data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration indicate that despite the area's typical summer thundershowers, Florida was much drier than normal from roughly 2006 to 2012. Meanwhile, last month tied for the hottest July on record in Tampa, according to the National Weather Service.
With hotter, wetter weather, it's party time for the wood-eating creatures. Termites have very thin skin layers; warmth, moisture and humidity are critical for their comfort and survival. They dry out and die in cool and dry conditions.
"The termites are in heaven," Cassill said. "You're going to see explosive growth in termites."
That's what Ester Venouziou experienced at her Gulfport home. She found "the little things that look like coffee grounds, and little wings," and called Couch's Pest Patrol in St. Petersburg. "They told me they've been crazy busy this year," Venouziou said. "It took a while for them to even come here to look at it and give me an estimate."
Mark Lange, a salesman at Couch's, acknowledged the exterminator is having "a pretty busy season."
"We're thankful to have it," he said. "Job security."
While it may be inconvenient to have to wait for a appointment to have your home tented, it won't necessarily be hazardous, said biologist Cassill. Drywood termites are slow eaters.
"The insects will continue to eat, but they won't make huge progress," she said. "They might chew up a couple more inches of wood. You're house isn't going to fall apart during the next three months."
Contact Jerome R. Stockfisch at firstname.lastname@example.org.