Quick Facts

  • Termites belong to the insect order Isoptera, meaning ‘equal wings’.
  • Termites have been around for over 250 million years.
  • There are over 2500 termite species world wide and 50 of those species are in the US.
  • Over 350 species of termites are found in Australia, of which only approximately 20 commonly cause damage to buildings.
  • Even though there are hundreds of different termite species in Australia and throughout the sub-tropical and tropical world the main termites that cause significant damage to buildings (seasoned wood) are just a few subterraneans — meaning they nest in soil or the inside of hollow trees where they can obtain a constant supply of moisture to maintain the ‘air conditioning’ or reasonably constant temperature and humidity inside the actual nest.
  • Mature colonies can contain over 60,000 termites.
  • Termites build a nest that contains the queen and king, the nursery and a large proportion of the soldiers and workers. Some species build a hard-shelled mound above or partly below the ground. Others build their nests in the trunk of a tree or below ground in the root crown. A nest can contain several million termites.
  • The termite queen has secondary and tertiary reproductives to help lay eggs. She can lay up to 1000 eggs per day. The queen will lay many thousands of eggs each year over her life span of approximately 10 years. The male or ‘king’ is responsible for fertililsing the queen. Termites hatch from eggs that have been tended by their nest mates in specially constructed nurseries.

The Queen

The Workers
  • Soldiers and workers are blind and sterile termites. The workers carry out the work of the colony and are responsible for gathering the food, grooming other termites, constructing tunnels and repairing damage in addition to tending to the kings, queens and their young. The soldiers defend the colony against attack, such as from ants.
  • Termites build a nest that contains the queen and king, the nursery and a large proportion of the soldiers and workers. Some species build a hard-shelled mound above or partly below the ground. Others build their nests in the trunk of a tree or below ground in the root crown. Some specifies are multi-site nesters (Heterotermes, Schedorhinotermes, Mastotermes), and others are central-site nesters (Coptotermes, Nasutitermes)A nest can contain several million termites.
  • It is important to correctly identify the type of termite before beginning treatment as the location of the nest and other habits of the colony will indicate the most treatment appropriate method. Types of termite species:
  • Coptotermes
    • Most damaging of any other species, located throughout mainland Australia. Aggressive in its search for food, and may attack many non wood items in search for cellulose materials. Colonies often nest in trees or stumps but can form nests without ground contact.
    • Nasutitermes
      •  Nasutitermes exitiosus usually builds a low mound between 30 cm and 75 cam above the ground and is more common across Southern Australia. Nasutitermes walkeri builds part of its colony as a nest on the branch of a tree; the rest is constructed in the ground beneath it. This genus will mainly attack hardwood such as that found in fences and timber decking.
      • Mastotermes
        • Mastotermes is found mainly north of the Tropic of Capricorn. These large termites can devastate buildings, bridges, poles, trees and crops.
        • Schedorhinotermes
          • These termites can cause damage approaching the severity caused by Coptotermes. They build fragile nests in places such as old tree trumps, in timber buried in the ground, in filled patios and under fireplaces. Although the damage can be significant, it often appears patchy, with huge gouges taken out of sound timber, particularly around nails in floor boards or other timbers.
          • Heterotermes
            • These are a significant structural pest through Queensland, northern WA and the NT. They are generally considered to do little damage to timber in service, restricting their attention to weathered timber fences, decking and posts.

 

  • Termites detect sound through their legs and groom by licking each other.
  • The digestive system of termites contains a variety of micro-organisms which assist in the digestion of the plant fibre cellulose. Timber is the main source of cellulose sought by the commercially important species. Sometimes other, non cellulosic materials such as electrical wiring and fittings are damaged because they are close to feeding activity.

 


Coptotermes

 Nasutitermes

Mastotermes

Schedorhinotermes

 



Heterotermes

Timber Damage

Termite mound
  • Further information can be obtained from http://www.qwiklink.com.au/termitestuff/termitepic/alates.jpg
  • Australian Standard 3660.1-1995. Protection of Buildings from Subterranean Termites. Part 1: New Buildings.
  • Australian Standard 3660-1993. Protection of Buildings Against Subterranean Termites. Prevention, Detection and Treatment of Infestation.
  • Australian Standard 2870.1-1988: Residential slabs and footings. Part 1: Construction.
  • Creffield, J.W. (1991). Wood Destroying Insects, CSIRO, Melbourne.
  • Harris, W.V. (1971). Termites – Their Recognition and Control, 2nd edition, Longman, London.
  • Verkerk, R. (1990). Building Out Termites, Pluto Press (Aust. Ltd), Leichhart.
  • Watson, J.A.L. and Gay, F.J. (1991). Isoptera (termites). In: The Insects of Australia, 2nd edition, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne.