Damaging Termite Species in Australia

The majority of damage to homes from termites is caused by a select number of species. Whilst they all have common biology there are key differences in their behaviour characteristics.

The key damaging termites are discussed in detail below.

 

Coptotermes acinaciformis

Distribution: Australia wide, particularly in urban areas.

Size: ­Soldiers – 5 to 6.5mm. Alates (including wings) – 12mm.

Colour: Workers – whitish and partially transparent. Soldiers – cream with large brown heads and mandibles. Alates – dark brown to black.

Breeding:

  • Queens lay eggs singly.
  • Nymphs pass through 4 – 7 moults before maturing.
  • The nymphal stage lasts 2 – 3 months.
  • Soldiers and workers live for 1 – 2 years.
  • A single colony may have more than one million termites.


Identification:

  Workers

  • Wingless, sterile and have no eyes.
  • Thin cuticle.

  Soldiers

  • Wingless, sterile and have no eyes. 
  • Large sabre like mandibles with no obvious teeth.
  • Labrum is not grooved.
  • Pear shaped head.
  • Tarsi – 4 segments.
  • Abdominal cerci – 2 segments.
  • Flat pronotum with no anterior lobes.
  • Produce a milky latex material from a pore on their head (fontanelle) when disturbed.
  • Frantically tap their heads when disturbed creating a loud ticking sound.
  • Aggressive.
  • Head width – 1.25mm.

  Alates

  • Compound eyes.
  • 4 equal sized wings as long as the body.
  • Denser cuticle compared to workers and soldiers.
  • Larger than workers and soldiers.
  • Head width – 1.3mm.


Habitat: 
Coptotermes acinaciformis are secretive and build their nests underground often near eucalypts trees. They have often been found nesting in tree trunks, tree stumps, enclosed patios and walls of buildings. Nests found in trees will have a mud pack above.

Foraging pattern: These termites avoid light and work undercover. They are aggressive in their search for food. They pack mud in and around tire timber damage. Alates usually fly during summer.

General: Coptotermes acinaciformis are the most widely distributed termite in Australia. They get their name from the fact that the soldiersexcrete formic acidfrom their mouths when threatene. Only Mastotermes darwiniensis are more destructive, however they are confined to northern Australia.

 

Coptotermes lacteus

Distribution: VIC, Eastern NSW, ACT and South Eastern areas of QLD particularly the coast line.

Size: ­Soldiers – 4 to 5mm. Alates (including wings) – 13 to 16mm.

Colour: Workers – whitish and partially transparent. Soldiers – cream with large brown heads and mandibles. Alates – dark brown to black.

Breeding: Subterranean termites undergo incomplete metamorphosis > egg, nymph, adult. The nymphs become either a worker or soldier. In a more mature colony alates are produced (winged females and males). Workers and soldiers are sterile males and females. Winged females and males mate then lose their wings to become the new king and queen of a colony.


Identification:

  Workers

  • Wingless, sterile and have no eyes.
  • Thin cuticle.

  Soldiers

  • Wingless, sterile and have no eyes.
  • Large sabre like mandibles with no obvious teeth.
  • Labrum is not grooved.
  • Pear shaped head.
  • Tarsi – 4 segments.
  • Abdominal cerci – 2 segments.
  • Flat pronotum with no anterior lobes.
  • Produce a milky latex material from a pore on their head (fontanelle) when disturbed.
  • Frantically tap their heads when disturbed creating a loud ticking sound.
  • Head width – 0.7 to 1.2mm.

  Alates

  • Compound eyes.
  • 4 equal sized wings as long as the body.
  • Denser cuticle compared to
  • Head width – 1.3mm.


Habitat: 
Coptotermes lacteus will often build conspicuous nests up to two metres above ground level. Their mounds have strong outer walls of clay, unlike the brittle exteriors of the Nasutitermes exitosus. They are a forest pest and not often found in urban areas.

Foraging pattern: Alates swarm between September and January and are not attracted to light. 

 

Coptotermes michaelseni

Distribution: South west of Western Australia.

Size: Soldiers – 4mm. Alates (including wings) – 11.5 to 12mm.

Colour: Workers – whitish and partially transparent. Soldiers – cream with large brown heads and mandibles. Alates – dark brown to black.


Identification:

  Workers

  • Wingless, sterile and have no eyes.
  • Thin cuticle.

  Soldiers

  • Wingless, sterile and have no eyes.
  • Large sabre like mandibles with no obvious teeth.
  • Labrum is not grooved.
  • Pear shaped head.
  • Tarsi – 4 segments.
  • Abdominal cerci – 2 segments.
  • Flat pronotum with no anterior lobes.
  • Produce a milky latex material from a pore on their head (fontanelle) when disturbed.
  • Frantically tap their heads when disturbed creating a loud ticking sound.
  • Often confused with Coptotermes acinaciformis and Coptotermes raffrayi although visibly smaller.
  • Head width – 0.6 to 1mm.

  Alates

  • Compound eyes.
  • 4 equal sized wings as long as the body.
  • Denser cuticle compared to workers and soldiers.
  • Larger than workers and soldiers.
  • Head width – 1.10mm.

 

Habitat: Coptotermes michaelseni are commonly found in fences, logs and other outdoor timbers in Perth, Western Australia. They nest underground and are very hard to find unless the alates are swarming.

Foraging pattern: Alates fly on warm afternoons and are often seen emerging from the ground and climbing up vegetation before commencing their flight.

General: Coptotermes michaelseni do not cause as much damage to buildings as other Coptotermes species.  

 

Coptotermes raffrayi

Distribution: Known to be present in North QLD, SA and WA.

Size: ­Soldiers – 4 to 5mm. Alates (including wings) – 12 to 14mm.

Colour: Workers – whitish and partially transparent. Soldiers – cream with large brown heads and mandibles. Alates – dark brown to black.

Breeding: Subterranean termites undergo incomplete metamorphosis > egg, nymph, adult. The nymphs become either a worker or soldier. In a more mature colony alates are produced (winged females and males). Workers and soldiers are sterile males and females. Winged females and males mate then lose their wings to become the new king and queen of a colony.


Identification:

  Workers

  • Wingless, sterile and have no eyes.
  • Thin cuticle.

  Soldiers

  • Wingless, sterile and have no eyes.
  • Large sabre like mandibles with no obvious teeth.
  • Labrum is not grooved.
  • Pear shaped head.
  • Tarsi – 4 segments.
  • Abdominal cerci – 2 segments.
  • Flat pronotum with no anterior lobes.
  • Produce a milky latex material from a pore on their head (fontanelle) when disturbed.
  • Frantically tap their heads when disturbed creating a loud ticking sound.
  • Head width – 0.85 to 1.4mm.

  Alates

  • Compound eyes.
  • 4 equal sized wings as long as the body.
  • Denser cuticle compared to workers and soldiers.
  • Larger than workers and soldiers.
  • Head width – 1.3 to 1.4mm.


Habitat: 
Coptotermes raffrayi build small underground nests in trunks of living and dead trees, logs and stumps. Often found in eucalyptus trees. They have been known to build mounds near trees or stumps. They prefer coastal and inland areas.

Foraging pattern: Alates are released during October and November.

 

Heterotermes ferox

Distribution: Southern areas of Australia.

Size: Soldiers – 3 to 6mm. Alates (including wings) – 9.75 to 11.5mm.

Colour: Workers – whitish and partially transparent. Soldiers – cream with large brown heads and mandibles. Alates – dark brown to black.


Identification:

  Workers

  • Wingless, sterile and have no eyes.
  • Thin cuticle.

  Soldiers

  • Wingless, sterile and have no eyes.
  • Distinct parallel sides to their heads and mandibles with no serrations.
  • Head width – 0.7 to 1mm.

  Alates

  • Compound eyes.
  • 4 equal sized wings as long as the body.
  • Denser cuticle compared to workers and soldiers.
  • Larger than workers and soldiers.
  • Head width – 0.73 to 0.91mm.


Habitat: 
Heterotermes ferox are often found in small colonies nesting under logs or stumps and in the decaying bases of fence posts or poles. Colonies are often found close to the nests of other termite species. They are not mound builders.

Scavenging pattern: Workers and soldiers move backwards when threatened. They are occasionally attracted to lights.

General: Heterotermes ferox are generally considered to be of little economic importance.

 

Heterotermes vagus

Distribution: Northern Australia.

Size: Soldiers – 3.5mm. Alates (including wings) – 9.75 to 10.25mm.

Colour: Workers – whitish and partially transparent. Soldiers – cream with large brown heads and mandibles. Alates – dark brown to black.


Identification:

  Workers

  • Wingless, sterile and have no eyes.
  • Thin cuticle.
  • Worker head width – 0.77mm. 

  Soldiers

  • Wingless, sterile and have no eyes.
  • Hairy.
  • Third segment is the smallest.
  • Long pointed labrum.
  • Soldier Head width – 0.75 to 0.85mm.

  Alates

  • Compound eyes.
  • 4 equal sized wings as long as the body.
  • Denser cuticle compared to workers and soldiers.
  • Larger than workers and soldiers.
  • Antennae have 15 segments.
  • Hairy.
  • Head width – 0.73 to 0.77mm.


Habitat: 
Heterotermes vagus are non-mound builders.

Foraging pattern: Alates usually fly at dusk or at night. Rainfall usually precedes flight activity. Before flying alates congregate near the surface of the soil.

 

Mastotermes darwiniensis

Distribution: Northern Australia.

Size: Workers – 10 to 11.5mm. Soldiers – 11 to 13mm. Alates – 35mm with 50mm wingspan.

Colour: Workers – whitish and partially transparent. Soldiers – cream with large brown heads and mandibles. Alates – dark brown to black.

 

Specifically to this species;

The queen lays up to 20 eggs in capsules similar to those of the cockroach.

Nymphs go through 4 to 7 moults and become mature within 2 to 3 months.

Soldiers live for 1 to 2 years.

Kings and queens can live up to 20 years.

Colonies can reach more than one million individuals.

 

Identification:

Workers

  • Wingless, sterile and have no eyes.
  • Thin cuticle.
  • Head width – 2.75mm. 

Soldiers

  • Wingless, sterile and have no eyes.
  • Also known as the Giant Northern Termite due to their size.
  • At first glance they look like a cockroach’s abdomen stuck to a termite’s forepart. Round, reddish brown heads with short stout mandibles and long teeth at the tips. The right mandible has two well-defined teeth but the left only has one.
  • Head width – 3mm.

Alates

  • Compound eyes.
  • 4 equal sized wings as long as the body.
  • Denser cuticle compared to workers and soldiers.
  • Larger than workers and soldiers.
  • Head width – 3.4mm.

 

Habitat:

Mastotermes darwiniensis are non-mound-builders. They nests in trunks and root crowns of trees and stumps. When the colony is mature and has over 100,000 individuals they will separate to form other nests that operate independently. Colonies quickly increase in size throughout built-up areas. 

 

Foraging pattern:

Their range is approximately 70 metres from the colony. Workings are massive with large amounts of earthen materials covering the activity. Swarming occurs between November and March. Sub-colonies result in major damage in short amounts of time.

 

General:

Mastotermes darwiniensis are the most destructive termite in Australia but are limited to Northern Australia. They can ringbark living trees and damage crops like sugarcane. The nymphs cause the most damage. They are the most primitive living termites.

 

Microcerotermes sp (many species)

Distribution: Australia wide but absent from south-east corner.

Size: Soldiers – 3 to 8mm.

Colour: Workers – whitish and partially transparent. Soldiers – cream with large brown heads and mandibles. Alates – dark brown to black.

 

Identification:

Workers

  • Wingless, sterile and have no eyes.
  • Thin cuticle.
  • Oval shaped head.

Soldiers

  • Wingless, sterile and have no eyes.
  • They are an average sized termite with a long square head. Soldiers have long heads with thin mandibles that are finely serrated. Workers have an elongated abdomen. It is very hard to separate individual species in this genus.
  • Elongated rectangular head.
  • Antennae have 12 or 13 segments.

Alates

  • Compound eyes.
  • 4 equal sized wings as long as the body.
  • Denser cuticle compared to workers and soldiers.
  • Larger than workers and soldiers.
  • Rounded head.
  • Antennae have 13 or 14 segments.

 

Habitat:

Microcerotermes sp build mounds but also make underground and arboreal nests. Small colonies are often found near fence posts and logs. The outside layer of the nest is thin and easily broken.

 

Foraging pattern:

They are not aggressive.

 

Nasutitermes exitiosus

Distribution: NSW, ACT, VIC and the Southern areas of QLD and WA.

Size: ­Workers – 4.25 to 4.55mm. Soldiers – 3.6 to 4.8mm. Alates (including wings) – 15.5 to 17.5mm.

Colour: Workers – whitish and partially transparent. Soldiers – cream with large brown heads and mandibles. Alates – dark brown to black.

Breeding: Subterranean termites undergo incomplete metamorphosis > egg, nymph, adult. The nymphs become either a worker or soldier. In a more mature colony alates are produced (winged females and males). Workers and soldiers are sterile males and females. Winged females and males mate then lose their wings to become the new king and queen of a colony.

Specifically to this species;

  • Alates are ushered through the underground workings to set up new colonies.
  • Sub-colonies in buildings are often formed by supplementary queens.


Identification:

  Workers

  • Wingless, sterile and have no eyes.
  • Thin cuticle.
  • Antennae have 14 segments.
  • Head width – 1.40mm.

  Soldiers

  • Wingless, sterile and have no eyes.
  • Dark, chestnut brown heads.
  • Fused mandibles giving the appearance of a long snout.
  • Antennae have 13 segments.
  • Head width – 0.8 to 1.4mm.

  Alates

  • Compound eyes.
  • 4 equal sized wings as long as the body.
  • Denser cuticle compared to workers and soldiers.
  • Larger than workers and soldiers.
  • Antennae have 15 segments.
  • Head width – 1.19 to 1.35mm.


Habitat: 
Nasutitermes exitiosus build low dome shaped mounds, particularly near eucalypt gum trees. These mounds are 30 to 75cm high and 100cm wide. In drier areas they will nest in trees, stumps or even below ground. They have been known to nest in wall cavities or under floors. They are not a problem in built up areas as their very noticeable mounds are often destroyed as soon as they are noticed.

Foraging pattern: They will travel up to 50 metres from their nest for food.

General: Nasutitermes exitiosus are not regarded as serious pests although they will cause considerable damage if they go unnoticed for a long time.

 

Schedorhinotermes intermedius

Distribution: NT, Eastern NSW and South Eastern QLD particularly along the coastline.

Size: ­Workers – 3 to 5mm. Soldiers – 3.5 to 7mm. Alates (including wings) – 17 to 18mm.

Colour: Workers – whitish and partially transparent. Soldiers – cream with large brown heads and mandibles. Alates – dark brown to black.

Specifically to this species;

  • Queen lays eggs singly.
  • Nymphs pass through 4 – 7 moults in 2 – 3 months before becoming mature.
  • Soldiers and workers live 1 – 2 years.
  • Kings and queens live up to 20 years.


Identification:

  Workers

  • Wingless, sterile and have no eyes.
  • Thin cuticle.

  Soldiers

  • Wingless, sterile and have no eyes.
  • They create distinctively loose honeycomb damage in timber. Workings are rather brittle compared to that of Coptotermes and are darker than the surrounding soil.
  • Mandibles with teeth on inner faces.
  • Grooved labrum.
  • Tarsi – 4 segments.
  • Abdominal cerci – 2 segments.
  • Pronotum flat, no anterior lobes.
  • Major soldier – 5.5 to 7mm, bulbous head.
  • Minor soldier – 3.5 to 4.5mm, narrow head, mandibles more slender.
  • Minor soldier head width – 0.88 to 0.96mm.
  • Major Soldier head width – 1.72 to 1.85mm
  • In a new colony minor soldiers appear first.

  Alates

  • Compound eyes.
  • 4 equal sized wings as long as the body.
  • Denser cuticle compared to workers and soldiers.
  • Larger than workers and soldiers.
  • Head width – 1.72mm.


Habitat: 
Schedorhinotermes intermedius commonly build their nests in tree stumps, in the root crowns of living or dead trees, under buildings or within enclosed patio areas where timber is buried or stored in contact with soil. They have been found under fireplace foundations. They do not build mounds.

Foraging pattern: Alates fly during the early evening or at night, often just before or after rain. They are attracted to light. Colonies are partially mobile as the queen is able to relocate. Often timber is fully excavated and packed with mud. They tend to concentrate around nails used in construction.

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    Example of Termite Damage