Alco Pest Control

Dog trained to track down termites

The newest weapon in South Florida’s war against termites scampered through a field of knee-high grass, her tail wagging in excitement.

A termite-sniffing, mixed-breed dog named Connie went into action for the first time in a section of Dania Beach that represents the only U.S. foothold of an unusually damaging Caribbean species called the conehead termite. The Florida Department of Agriculture fears the conehead could spread beyond its square-mile range and chew its way through Florida’s houses, garages and condominiums — and it’s counting on Connie to help stop it.

“We think we have a realistic chance to eliminate this invasive species,” said Barbara Thorne, a scientist working on the campaign. “And the dog is going to help a lot.”

Home to many species of native termite, Florida also has fallen victim to aggressive invaders from other countries, most notably the Formosan termite, discovered in Hallandale Beach in 1980. The Formosan has spread throughout coastal South Florida, as well as several other parts of the state. Now the conehead threatens to do the same thing.

“Dania Beach is the epicenter for this particular infestation, but there’s nothing unique about Dania Beach,” Thorne said. “The termite could spread much farther south or north or west. And we’re close to the Everglades here … It’s just astronomical what the potential for damage could be if we’re not successful in the eradication effort.”

Alco Pest Control provide termite removal service for all of Broward and Palm Beach counties 954-427-6008

The conehead, formally known as the Nasutitermes corniger, was discovered in Dania Beach 12 years ago. Likely arriving at a local marina on wood pallets from the Caribbean, the termite has eaten its way through dozens of houses, forming distinctive dark brown trails up the sides of buildings.

Unlike the 20 or so termites typically found in Florida, the coneheads travel above ground, allowing them to spread faster and preventing pest-control operators from using their standard treatment methods. The Agriculture Department is trying to take advantage of the conehead’s limited range to wipe it out.

This is where Connie comes into the picture.

Rescued from a shelter a few months ago, the 40-pound Connie was trained by J&K Canine Academy of High Springs, near Gainesville. The company, which has trained dogs to find bed bugs, snakes, duck eggs and other species of termite, selected her because she’s young, energetic and has the long legs for working in tall grass.

“She is a ball of energy and driven to hunt and not stop,” said her trainer, Bun Montgomery. “She will hunt all day.”

Her first field training last week came in an overgrown five-acre lot just south of Griffin Road, deeply shaded with palm trees and live oaks wrapped in banana-spider webs.

“This is basically termite food you’re looking at, termite candy,” Thorne said, looking around at the trees. “It’s so overgrown, there’s such an abundance of dead cellulose.”

The dog, trained to paw the ground to indicate the presence of live coneheads, trotted around on a long black leash and passed a few preliminary tests: It didn’t paw at dead nests, and it didn’t go “crittering,” chasing down the scent trail of a raccoon or opossum.

The dog didn’t find any nests on its own, but they didn’t expect her to that day. But when brought to areas where there were live coneheads, she pawed the ground, indicating she will be able to find them once she’s acclimated to the area.

At a tree trunk, agriculture officials found the brown trail of a conehead feeding tube. Connie scratched the tree trunk.

“Very good, good girl,” Montgomery, her handler said, handing her some dry food from a pouch on his waist.

The tunnel indicated the presence of a nest within 100 feet or so. Within a few minutes, a state agriculture inspector found it: a mound that looked like a half-submerged beach ball, likely containing about 400,000 termites.

This was a crucial part of her training. Connie had never encountered the scent of such a dense concentration of coneheads. At first she walked around the nest, then, as a group of agriculture officials and scientists watched, she pawed the ground.

“Great!” Montgomery said, reaching for more treats. “Good girl!”

Connie is likely to go to work next month. The state does monthly surveys of the termite’s Dania Beach range, going about a half-mile beyond any previous discoveries to stop it from spreading. Connie will work with inspectors in fields and yards while a beagle named Heady will sniff for termites inside buildings.

The nest discovered Thursday will be removed, packed in garbage bags and either burned or fumigated.

Alco Pest Control provide termite removal service for all of Broward and Palm Beach counties 954-427-6008