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Why Extremely Destructive “Super Termite” Hybrids May Soon Become Established In Georgia

August 5th, 2020

Georgia is home to a relatively high number of both subterranean and drywood termite species that are known pests of woodwork. The most common and destructive termite pest species in Georgia is the native eastern subterranean termite (Reticulitermes flavipes), followed by the dark southern subterranean termite (R. virginicus), and the light southern subterranean termite (R. hageni). The most common drywood termite pest species in Georgia include the southeastern drywood termite (Incisitermes snyderi) and the dark southern drywood termite (Kalotermes approximatus). In addition to these five native termite pest species, the invasive Formosan subterranean termite (Coptotermes fomanosus), and the invasive West Indian powderpost drywood termite (Cryptotermes brevis) are less common in Georgia, but they are prevalent in certain localities.

Unfortunately, experts believe that many termite pest species in the US are gradually migrating farther north in response to the warming climate. This puts Georgia in a bad position, as the state’s southern neighbor, Florida, is home to the highest number of termite pest species in the US, most of which are invasive species. If climate scientists are correct in their predictions, many termite pests that now inhabit only Florida may eventually migrate into Georgia. Many of the invasive termite pest species in Florida are Carribean natives that are not likely to spread far beyond the tropical southern Florida coast where they are currently established. However, a close relative of the highly destructive Formosan subterranean termite has been migrating progressively farther north in Florida since the species established an invasive habitat in the sunshine state a little more than two decades ago. This pest is known as the Asian subterranean termite (Coptotermes gestroi), and studies have shown that climate change is already contributing to a northward expansion of this species.

University of Florida researchers consistently update their termite distribution map in order to keep tabs on the migratory patterns of the Asian subterranean termite (AST), which is said to be the most destructive termite pest in the world along with its Formosan relative. The latest update shows dozens of AST colonies in Tallahassee, Jacksonville, and in several other cities located right on the Florida/Georgia border. To make matters worse, the Formosan (FST) and AST species are mating to produce unusually destructive hybrid pests known as “supertermites.” Since FSTs have already established a large population covering Florida and Georgia, this mating is causing ASTs to become absorbed into more northern FST colonies, thus accelerating the AST’s spread into Georgia.

Are Formosan subterranean termites a pest concern where you live?

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