Conehead Termites

How to Get Rid of Conehead Termites

Conehead termites (Nasutitermes corniger) were introduced to the United States around 2001. They are commonly found in Central and South America and the West Indies. It is believed conehead termites were introduced to the United States by a boat that traveled through their native range and docked in Dania Beach near Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Currently, conehead termites are confined to the Fort Lauderdale area of south Florida and entomologists and researchers are working hard to prevent this invasion from becoming permanently established.

Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) is working diligently to confirm and track any instances of conehead termites. If you believe you may have conehead termites, contact FDACS at 1-888-397-1517 or you may report the termites online.

Conehead termites can cause extensive structural damage, and an observant and knowledgeable citizenry is necessary to eradicate this species from the United States. Please take the time to familiarize yourself with the photographs and characteristics of Conehead termites to help limit the spread of this invasive termite.

Conehead Termite Identification

Conehead termites used to be called “tree termites” due to their tendency to build their nests in trees. However, this is deceiving as conehead termites do not only build nests in trees. Therefore, the common name for this species was changed to conehead termites.

As with other termite species, conehead termites are divided into different castes. Conehead termite soldiers are distinct from other common termites. Conehead soldiers are small, approximately 5mm. On their head, they have a dark brown cone like projection which comes to a point. This projection can secrete a defensive chemical with a sap-like texture. This defensive chemical is used against ants, lizards, and termites from neighboring colonies. Approximately 20% of the termites within a conehead termite colony are soldiers, which is a higher percentage of soldiers than other termite species.

The conehead alates, or termites capable of reproduction, have dark brown bodies and dark brown wings. The Florida darkwinged termite, Amitermes floridensis, also has a dark body and dark wings. However, measuring between 15 to 18 mm (including the wings), conehead termite reproductives are much larger than Amitermes floridensis.

Conehead Termite Nests and Tunnels

Conehead termites often build visible nests above the ground. Nesting locations may be at the base of a tree or on branches of a tree, hidden within vegetation, on open ground, or within debris on the ground. These dark brown nests blend in with the surroundings and are sometimes covered with leaf litter. Conehead termites sometimes build nests in or on structures, trash piles, or cement blocks. These termites can infest anything made of cellulose, including paper and wood. Conehead termite nests may be up to 3 feet in diameter, dark brown to black, hard and bumpy in appearance. They resemble a ball of mud, but they are actually made of termite feces. The fact that their nests are visible above ground is a unique characteristic of the conehead termite.

Conehead termites do not tunnel underground as subterranean termites, or stay hidden away inside wood as drywood termites do. They create tunnels to travel across the top of the ground, up trees or the sides of buildings, and anywhere else they need to travel. These tunnels are usually about ½” wide and connect the nest to their source of food and moisture. If an active tunnel is broken open, it will reveal soldiers and workers.

Figure 41. Conehead termite soldiers with snout-like projection mixed with worker termites. The snout-like projection can shoot out a sticky fluid as a defensive mechanism.

Conehead termite soldiers with snout-like projection mixed with worker termites. The snout-like projection can shoot out a sticky fluid as a defensive mechanism.
Credit: Rudolph Scheffrahn, UF/IFAS
Figure 42. Conehead swarmers with dark wings.

Conehead swarmers with dark wings.
Credit: FDACS
Figure 43. Conehead nest at base of tree. Nests can occur almost anywhere.

Conehead nest at base of tree. Nests can occur almost anywhere.
Credit: FDACS
Figure 44. Conehead termites can infest anything made of cellulose, including wood and paper.

Conehead termites can infest anything made of cellulose, including wood and paper.
Credit: FDACS

Conehead Termite Damage

Conehead termites are considered a termite of economic importance and its identification and control is crucial to minimizing the damage inflicted by this pest. Conehead termites survive in many habitats and feed on a variety of wood. They can destroy structural (load bearing) wood as well as feed on dead and decaying wood. They eat dry wood and moist wood; they can digest bamboo and palm leaf axils, and household framing, and trim wood.

Conehead termites can cause substantial damage in a short period of time. These termites have a high rate of reproduction, and colonies with multiple primary kings and queens are common. In addition, conehead termites may create satellite nests on or near your structure. When a colony reaches about 50,000 workers and soldiers, it will send reproductives out to establish a new colony. A large conehead termite consists of about 800,000 to 1.2 million termites.

To avoid costly damage, treatment should not be delayed when dealing with Conehead termites.

Conehead Termite Treatment

Because conehead termites are a relatively new invasive species, there is still hope that they can be contained and eradicated. These voracious termites are currently believed to be confined to Broward County, Florida, but may exist elsewhere. Any suspected conehead termite colony should be reported to Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) at 1-888-397-1517 or online.

Conehead termite treatment options differ from other termite treatments due to their unique nesting and foraging habits. Traditional subterranean and drywood termite protocols will not be effective against Conehead termites. FDACS has developed protocols for treating Conehead termites, which may include destruction of the nest and termiticide treatments of the nest and around structures (trees and fences) with active tunnels. To properly eliminate this invasive pest, we recommend you work with an experienced and licensed Pest Management Professional to eliminate conehead termites from your property. It should also be noted that conehead termites do not respond to borate-based treatments.

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