By Dr. Becker
South Florida has a new weapon in the war against termites. Her name is Connie, and she’s getting her feet wet in her new career by searching out conehead termite infestations in Dania Beach.
The conehead termite is a Caribbean species capable of causing an extraordinary amount of damage. The only location in the U.S. where the conehead has been found is a square-mile area of Dania Beach. But the Florida Department of Agriculture is concerned this species could spread throughout the state, much like the Formosan termite, which was first discovered in Hallandale Beach in 1980 and has now spread up and down the coast of South Florida and several other areas of the state.
This is where termite detection dog Connie comes in.
"We think we have a realistic chance to eliminate this invasive species," said scientist Barbara Thorne. "And the dog is going to help a lot." Thorne is especially concerned about Dania Beach’s close proximity to the Everglades. “It’s just astronomical what the potential for damage could be if we’re not successful in the eradication effort,” she said.
The conehead termite was actually discovered in Dania Beach a dozen years ago. Experts suspect it traveled to Florida aboard wood pallets originating in the Caribbean. Since then, the termite has chewed its way through dozens of structures. It leaves an unmistakable dark brown trail up the sides of the buildings it infests.
Unlike most of the termites found around Florida, the conehead moves above ground. This allows the termites to spread faster and elude standard pest-control treatment methods.
Rescue Dog Connie Is Trained to Search Out Live Coneheads
Connie, a 40-pound mixed breed, was trained by a group in Gainesville that trains dogs to detect bed bugs, snakes, duck eggs, and other species of termites. Connie was selected for the job because she’s young, has a high energy level, and her long legs are perfect for working in tall grass.
According to Connie’s trainer, “She is a ball of energy and driven to hunt and not stop. She will hunt all day.”
Connie’s first training session was held in late October in an overgrown five-acre lot that was shaded by palm trees and live oaks covered in banana-spider webs. Barbara Thorne described the lot as being covered in “termite candy.”
Connie was trained to paw the ground to signal the presence of live coneheads. As she investigated the lot on a long leash, Connie got high marks for not pawing at dead nests, and for resisting the urge to track the scent of interesting critters like opossums and raccoons.
Connie wasn’t able to find any nests on her own during her first field training session, but when her trainer brought her to areas where there were live coneheads, she pawed the ground. This indicates she’ll be able to find the termites on her own once she’s acclimated to the area.
Connie Gets Her First Whiff of a Giant Conehead Nest
In the overgrown lot, agriculture officials found the telltale brown trail indicating conehead feeding activity on a tree trunk. Connie scratched the tree trunk.
Within a short time an inspector found the nest – a mound that resembled a half-submerged beach ball. A mound that size typically contains about 400,000 termites.
This provided excellent training for Connie, who had yet to encounter such a strong scent of coneheads. She walked around the nest, and then she pawed the ground, for which she received a great deal of praise.
The plan is to put Connie to work this month. She’ll team up with inspectors in fields and yards, while her counterpart, a beagle named Heady, will search inside buildings.