Two Most Destructive Termite Species Forming Hybrid Superswarms in South Florida

Posted on March 28, 2015

Hybrid termite colony in S. Florida

Two of the world's most destructive termite species are forming hybrids superswarms in South Florida warn entomologists from the University of Florida. The entomologists say these hybrid colonies grow fast and could cause damage to homes at a much quicker pace. It could also enable the termites to spread beyond Florida's border. The image above shows an eight month-old hybrid colony that contains the male C. gestroi and the female C. formosanus eggs, larvae, workers and soldiers.

Nan-Yao Su, an entomology professor at the UF Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center, says in a statement, "Because a termite colony can live up to 20 years with millions of individuals, the damaging potential of a hybrid colony remains a serious threat to homeowners even if the hybrid colony does not produce fertile winged termites. This is especially true when the colony exhibits hybrid vigor as we witnessed in the laboratory."

UF scientists previously thought the two termite species had distinct swarming seasons that prevented them from interacting. However, the new research indicates that they can swarm together. More disturbing is the fact that UF entomologists found that male Asian termites prefer to mate with Formosan females rather than females of their own species. This increases the risk of hybrid colonies.

Thomas Chouvenc, an assistant researcher who works with Su, says, "This is worrisome, as the combination of genes between the two species results in highly vigorous hybridized colonies that can develop twice as fast as the two parental species. The establishment of hybrid termite populations is expected to result in dramatically increased damage to structures in the near future."

Chouvenc says the swarming clouds he has been monitoring are getting bigger and bigger each year. He tells S. Florida residents that if they see termites swarming they should catch some, put them in a Ziplock bag and send them to him. Take a look:



A research paper on the hybridization of the two termite species can be found here in the journal PLoS One.

Photo: Thomas Chouvenc, et. al./PLoS ONe