There exists some disagreement concerning the taxonomic distinctions between different termites, but many experts divide termites into 12 families. Many termite species belonging to different families are morphologically similar enough to be considered members of one single family. For most of entomological history, experts relied on differences in observable features to make species distinctions between different termite specimens, but the advent of genetic sequencing technology has allowed researchers to determine the relative relatedness of different termite species with precision. In fact, it was only recently learned that termites actually descended from early cockroaches the existed millions of years ago. As a result of this discovery, termites were placed within the Blattodea order (cockroaches), as termites were thought to comprise their own insect order, Isoptera, before this discovery was made.
Of the several different termite families that have been established, the Termitidae family is the most evolutionarily advanced. These termites are referred to as “higher termites”, and they have evolved amazing abilities, such as building 30 foot tall nesting mounds and cultivating their own fungal crops as a food source. Most higher termites are not structural pests, and they do not dwell in North America; instead, North America contains some of the most destructive termite species in the world. However, not long ago, a species of higher termite was discovered infesting structures in Florida for the very first time in history. This is significant considering that no higher termite species has ever been found outside of its native habitat.
The Nasutitermes subfamily belongs to the higher termite family Termitidae. Termites belonging to this family often build arboreal nests (nests in trees) or other types of nests located above the soil. Back in 2001, a species from this subfamily of highly evolved termites was found infesting numerous structures within a small area of southern Florida. This species is called N. costalis, and in addition to finding them infesting structures, several foraging sites were found as well as numerous ground and arboreal nests. Several mature specimens were collected, indicating that these termites have no problem surviving in the subtropical regions of the US. It is not known for sure how this advanced termite species arrived in the US, but it is believed that they had been infesting a commercial trading vessel that docked in Florida in early 2001. This marked the first and only time that a higher termite species was found outside of its natural habitat, and this species became the 20th termite species to reside in the state of Florida.
Do you believe that the above described termite species will re-emerge as a serious pest in Florida?