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Termites

Introduction

Termites are small, soft-bodied, social insects that feed on wood, grass, dead leaves, bark, humus, fungi or the dung of herbivores. They are commonly known as white ants, but are not related to true ants.

There are over 2300 species of termites of which about 350 occur in Australia, and of these about 12 damage sound timber.

Termites also recycle organic materials and aerate the soil. They are an important part in the diet of other animals and their activities provide hollow logs, which are used by birds and mammals. Economically, the important termites are the subterranean species that usually nest under, or in contact with, the ground.

The following species do the most economic damage: 

  • Coptotermes acinaciformis

  • Coptotermes acinaciformis raffrayi

  • Coptotermes michaelseni

  • Mastotermes darwiniensis

  • Nasutitermes exitiosus and 

  • Schedorhinotermes reticulatus.

Note that the suspected occurrence of drywood termites, or other unusual damage to timber, should be reported to Agriculture Western Australia. Drywood termites nest in wood above the ground and do not require contact with the ground.

 

Social Structure

Each termite colony may comprise more than a million insects divided into specialised groups called castes. Each caste is physically different and performs a particular function.

Primary

Primary reproductives are the king and queen that established the nest after leaving existing colonies. In an established nest the queen may be enlarged and practically immobile. In some species, the queen can lay 2000 to 3000 eggs per day. The king and queen may live for 15 years and are replaced when too old to meet the needs of the colony. The king periodically fertilises the queen, unlike bees, wasps and ants where the queen usually mates only at the beginning of her reproductive life.

 

Winged

Winged reproductives or alates are the future kings and queens of new nests. They have a well developed cuticle, compound eyes, and two pairs of usually dark brown elongated membranous wings of equal length. Alates disperse in large numbers from mature colonies, usually in warm humid weather. They are weak fliers and quickly land and drop their wings. The females release a scent (pheromone) to attract a male with which to establish a nest. Only a small percentage are successful in establishing new colonies. It takes several years of development before a nest can do significant damage. Alates are only produced in well-established, mature nests. During their dispersal flight, alates commonly land on the roofs of buildings and move inside. This is not a matter for concern since they must first establish a nest in the ground. However, alates seen emanating very close to the house suggest a nest is nearby and a pest control operator should be contacted.

Soldiers

Soldiers are sterile males and females. Their main function is to protect the colony. They also scout and locate new sources of food. Soldiers have a thin, white or light brown cuticle over most of the body and a thicker, dark brown cuticle covering the head. Soldiers are physically distinctive and are the primary group used for species identification. Soldiers cannot feed themselves and are dependent on the workers for their nutrition. Some soldiers exude an acid fluid as a means of defence. This fluid can corrode metal and will penetrate mortar and low grade concrete.

Workers

Workers are the sterile males and females that feed the colony, rear young and repair and enlarge the nest. They are the only caste that can chew and digest the cellulose in wood. Workers have thin cuticles and are the most numerous caste of the colony.

Workers, soldiers and the enlarged queen are very susceptible to desiccation owing to their thin cuticles. Thus the humidity of the nest is kept at 90 to 95 percent. When termites are forced to cross a structure that they cannot eat, they construct mud-like shelter tubes (or galleries) which protect them against light, desiccation and predators.


Life Cycle

The life cycle of termites is described as "incomplete metamorphosis" with egg, nymph and adult stages. In the nymph stage termites grow through a series of moults. The life cycle of true ants is known as "complete metamorphosis"; with egg, larvae, pupa and adult stages.

Did you know that termites destroy more homes in Australia than fire, floods, storms and tempest, combined? Don’t take any chances when it comes to protecting your home against these highly destructive pests.

For more information on termites in Australia and how to protect your property against termite damage, call our office and let us give you the right information.