(WSVN) - Termites love to eat away at the wood in our homes and businesses, and in tonight’s 7 Investigates, Kevin Ozebek explains why invasive termites in South Florida pose a huge risk, particularly as we enter hurricane season.

They may look tiny, but termites cause big trouble.

Thomas Chouvenc, urban entomologist, Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center, University of Florida: “The question is not, do I have termites? It’s when will I have termites?”

At the Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center, Thomas Chouvenc helps answer that question with his millions of termites.

Thomas Chouvenc: “We are probably the only lab in the country and maybe in the world who has collections of colonies with everybody in there: the king, the queen, the brood.”

He has the common, dry wood termites you are probably familiar with.

Thomas Chouvenc: “A single colony can live its entire life cycle in a single piece of wood.”

But he also keeps Formosan and Asian subterranean termites. They’re called super termites because they do more damage then the dry wood variety.

And they’re wreaking havoc here in South Florida.

Thomas Chouvenc: “When you find subterranean termites, now is the time to do something about it.”

Both super termite species start their colonies in trees, and they quickly eat the trees from the inside out.

They are especially dangerous during hurricane season. What may look like a healthy tree may be blown over by a storm because the inside is hollowed out by these invasive termites.

Thomas Chouvenc: “After a big rain, where the tree sucks up all the moisture from the ground, which means the canopy is getting heavier and heavier, then the tree can even collapse on its own weight.”

Here in the lab, they study their voracious appetites.

Just look at this wood sample.

Thomas Chouvenc: “People think they have no problem, but then, if you look at what’s inside, it’s been shredded to paper.”

Eventually, the subterranean termites will go underground and travel through mud tubes to find new food sources.

If they end up in your home, it’s very bad news.

Thomas Chouvenc: “They cannot go through concrete, but they can go through the cracks in the concrete. These termites can really do a lot of damage and cost a lot of money to repair and to treat.”

Researchers keep track of where the super termites are spreading in Florida.

The yellow dots on this map show where Formosan subterranean termites have been found. The red dots show the location of the Asian species.

Rudolf Scheffrahn, professor of entomology, University of Florida: “We can map all those pest species on a map to see where the termites have been, where they’re moving to.”

Next door to the lab, Professor Rudolf Scheffrahn has the largest collection of preserved termites in the world.

Rudolf Scheffrahn: This has been useful for me as a taxonomist, but also to track the exotic species that are sent to me, submitted by pest control operators, homeowners.”

Knowing exactly what species you have is the key to getting rid of the ones invading your property.

Rudolf Scheffrahn: “Dry wood termites are fumigated, subterranean species are baited or residual chemicals are used.”

This time of year, it’s crucial to check your trees for mud tubes. If you see any, it’s time to call the professionals for help. Exterminators can place termite bait stations around your home to protect your property during hurricane season.


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