South Florida is paying a small price for the nice warm winter, and that’s an unusually early appearance of termites.
Some homeowners have noticed clouds of what look like flying ants swarming in their homes and yards, as the wood-chomping bugs initiate their annual search for new places to colonize, experts said.
Chief among the early arrivals is a relative newcomer, an Asian variety of subterranean termite that immigrated here aboard boats and has taken hold in some waterfront pockets of South Florida.
“They are big eaters,” said Rudolf Scheffrahn, a termite expert and entomology professor at the University of Florida research center in Davie. “The warm weather and the humidity from the recent rains tells them it’s time to come out.”
Scheffrahn said exterminators brought him the first samples of the year from Palm Beach County on Feb. 20, about three weeks earlier than usual.
Also, the bugs have been found in Plantation along the New River west of Florida’s Turnpike, several miles farther west than they previously were seen, Scheffrahn said.
They’re not the only bugs out early this year. Some exterminators said they have seen signs of ground-dwelling Formosan termites and more-common drywood termites, as well as several types of so-called white flies and some breeds of ants.
But the new kid on the block is Asian termites, related to but different than the Formosan breed that has been here for decades.
The Asian bugs have arisen most heavily in neighborhoods with canal and river access for boats, especially Hallandale Beach, eastern Fort Lauderdale , a few spots in southern Palm Beach County and near the Port of Palm Beach. They make nests in the ground and infiltrate into buildings, experts said.
They only need an opening of 1/32 inch to get past a home’s concrete block, then head for the attic, said Greg Rice, a spokesman for Hulett Environmental Services in West Palm Beach.