Invasion of the Coneheads!
By Dr. Barbara L. Thorne - Department of Entomology, University of Maryland
Thursday, March 14, 2013
A hungry and
rapidly growing species of termite snuck into Florida from the tropics
and is living in sections of the Dania Beach area of Ft.
Lauderdale. This species, scientific name Nasutitermes
corniger, is now nicknamed the “Conehead Termite” because of the
distinctive cone - or teardrop-shaped head of the soldier caste.
When it was first discovered in Florida in 2001, this species was
called the “Tree Termite,” but that nickname led to
confusion—primarily the incorrect inference that it always lived
and nested in or on trees, as well as the false sense of security
that “at least my house is safe because the ‘Tree Termite’ only
eats trees.” Not! This highly adaptable termite nests in or on—and
happily consumes—trees, shrubs, roots, structures, fences, wooden
furniture, scrap wood, paper products and probably many other items
made of cellulose. It may build nests on open ground with no trees
This challenging species has tremendous potential for swift
dispersal, survival in a variety of structural and natural habitats
across a broad geographic range, and decisive economic
impacts. There is a sense of urgency to act now to halt and
hopefully eradicate this exotic species because if it spreads
further and becomes irreversibly established in the United States,
it could become a powerfully damaging, expensive, obnoxious, and
What should I look for to identify a Conehead Termite
Three features of this species enable swift identification:
Coneheads build extensive networks of narrow (usually half-inch
wide or less) brown “tunnels” or termite highways on the sides of
trees, houses, walls or almost any surface. Around homes, the
galleries often track along lines such as mortar joints between
layers of brick, or the junction between a house wall and the roof
eaves. Termites are busy under these covered galleries, marching
24/7 to and from food and water resources. Often these
tunnels are the first sign of an infestation. Other termites
in the U.S. build tunnels too, but Conehead gallery networks are
lengthy and prominent, and if you remove a short section, amazing
insects will run out, as described below.
2. CONEHEADS: The
soldier form of this termite has a very distinctive, dark
“conehead” or teardrop-shaped head. If you break open an active
tunnel, termites each about the size of a grain of rice dash out,
including the odd-looking conehead soldiers which comprise up to
20-30% of the individuals in a colony. No worries – these
termites will not bite or sting.
3. NEST: This
invasive termite builds conspicuous dark brown nests, usually in
the shape of a large ball or watermelon with a crisp, bumpy
surface. Nests may be on, in, or by a tree, shrub, or structure, or
sometimes sitting on open ground. Young colonies remain hidden for
several years while they build population size before their “big
reveal” when they construct a visible nest. The initial phase of
construction creates a nest about the size of a tennis or softball,
but healthy colonies rapidly expand their home such that a nest the
size of a basketball or even larger may grow within a few months,
and produce swarmers (alates) within a year. Because only older
colonies build nests, however, foraging tunnels are found
frequently without an apparent nest, which is still very important
and we urge you to report the discovery.
To report a location of Conehead Termite activity, even
if you’re not sure but would like it checked (free inspection and
treatment), please call Florida’s Department of Agriculture and
Consumer Services (DACS) at 850-617-7997.
How are Conehead Termite infestations
Because the goal is to evict this species from the U.S., any
live Coneheads must be treated, whether they’re in a house, yard,
or even in an abandoned lot where they’re munching on items no one
seems to care about.
Florida’s new overall treatment protocolis to remove and destroy
(by incineration) accessible nests, and use termiticides to
comprehensively treat activity centers such as foraging galleries,
infested wood and other dense aggregations of termites. This
aggressive combination of strategies should kill many colonies, and
reduce overall population size, health and integrity of any
surviving Conehead societies enough to drastically reduce swarmer
production and dispersal, thus substantially slowing and hopefully
halting expansion of the infested area.
► These termites don’t bite or sting, but do not try to treat
them yourself because the colony may move rather than die.
Call the state hotline number above, or a certified pest management
► Conehead attempts to “hitchhike” to colonize a new area, in
another part of Florida or beyond, must be foiled by preventing
transport of trees and shrubs, wood debris and furniture out of the
infested and surrounding (high risk) locations, and by keeping
vigilant watch to quickly notice – and immediately treat – any new
Acting quickly and decisively now, and committing to treatment
and inspection vigilance for many years ahead, will be key to
eliminating the current Conehead Termite infestation and preventing
future established populations.
Thanks for helping to stop the
spread of this destructive, invasive bug!
All photos ©Barbara L. Thorne.View Comments
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