TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — For the first time, a tropical invasive termite species has been detected in Tampa, according to scientists with the University of Florida.

Scientists said Asian Subterranean termites were found beyond their expected range in the state. They said the species, known by its scientific name Coptotermes gestroi, are now established in South Tampa.

Researchers said they are most concerned about the abundance of Asian Subterranean termite specimens that Hillsborough County pest control operators have submitted for identification since the start of March.

“This invasive subterranean termite species is known not only to be an important structural pest, but it can also critically harm the urban tree canopy, as colonies typically infest and hollow large healthy trees,” said  Thomas Chouvenc, an assistant professor of urban entomology at the UF/IFAS Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center, who leads the team’s research effort on Asians subterranean termite. 

Researchers suspect that the initial infestation may have occurred seven to 10 years ago.

“The Tampa invasion is now the most northern point of infestation of this tropical species in the state, implying that other cities on the Florida west coast, south of Tampa, are potentially at risk for this species to establish in the coming years, if not already established, but not yet detected,” said Chouvenc.

Researchers said the Asian subterranean termite has reportedly restricted itself to tropical climates until now. The termite was first detected in the late 1990s in Miami. It has spread to four southeast Florida cities, including Riviera Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Miami and Key West. 

“The Asian subterranean termite has thus far been restricted to Southeast Florida because of its tropical climate requirement,” said Chouvenc. “This species has been reported to infest boats easily and has been intercepted in many private boats throughout the Florida coast, including St. Petersburg, Fort Myers and Naples.” 

Asian subterranean termites are typically first detected in trees, where the colonies begin forming, scientists said.

Researchers said they recommend regular tree inspections for termite activity to promote early detection in areas where termite infestations are confirmed.