Types of Termites
Termites cause significant damage to wood structures and crops worldwide. In Australia it is estimated they cause up to $1 billion damage each year. However, although there are around 300 different types of termites in Australia, only a few species are considered “commercially significant” – they cause all the damage.
There are two types of termites that cause damage:
- Subterranean termites – generally build their nests underground. Occasionally they build nests higher up in trees, but they are always connected to the ground and require conditions of higher humidity.
- Drywood termites – survive as many small nests throughout infested timber. They do not need to be in contact with the ground and can tolerate relatively dry conditions.
Coptotermes and Schedorhinotermes are probably the most common damaging termite species in Australia, although the giant northern termite (Mastotermes darwiniesis), which is found in the tropical north can cause major destruction to property in a matter of months.
Drywood termites, especially the invasive West Indian drywood termite (Cryptotermes brevis) are not that common, but can cause significant damage before being noticed and are difficult and expensive to control.
The top five species in the Newcastle and Hunter Valley area are
- Coptotermes acinaciformis
- Schedorhinotermes spp.
- Coptotermes frenchi
- Nasutitermes spp.
- Heterotermes ferox
It can be very difficult to distinguish the different types of termites from each other and should be done by a termite expert. Identification is based on features of the soldiers, physical characteristics, locality found and nesting habits. It’s important to get the identification correct as this will determine the level of risk of serious damage and treatment method.
Coptotermes generally do not build mounds (except Coptotermes lacteus, and Coptotermes acinaciformis when up in the tropics). They mostly nest underground and in trees and stumps. They can also nest under buildings and verandas where timber has been buried. Common trees for nesting are English oaks, various eucalypts, paperbarks and peppercorns. The colony is mostly found in the top of the root system to the lower trunk. Coptotermes are present in all the areas we service including Newcastle, Lake Macquarie, Port Stephens, Maitland, Wine Country, Hunter Valley.
This is one of the most destructive species of termite in Australia. It attacks all timber structures and damages forest and ornamental trees as well as fruit trees. Soil contact is desirable for this species, but not essential for satellite colonies (additional nests away from the main nest but nearer the food source), as long as it has a suitable moisture supply. Colonies may have up to 1 million individuals. Coptotermes lacteus and Coptotermes frenchi are also very destructive pests in their own right but cause far less damage to established properties than Coptotermes acinaciformis.
The termite nest
A termite colony consists of at least one queen, a king, soldiers, workers and alates.
Termite queen & king
To start a colony, two flying termites – a queen and king – pair up and find a suitable site to start a new colony. They care for their young themselves until they have produced enough workers to take over the nursery duties. Other workers take care of foraging activities. As the colony increases in size, the queen becomes an enlarged egg laying machine, barely able to move on her own.
The workers make up the largest caste (group of termites) within a colony. They do all of the work, apart from reproduce and defend the colony. They forage for food, feed and groom others, excavate the nest and make leads/tunnels. In foraging for food – they only eat cellulose material (wood, paper and cardboard) – it is the workers that cause the destruction to your property.
Soldiers defend the colony against attack by their enemies, such as ants. The different species have developed soldiers with different shaped heads and different defence mechanisms – some have large jaws, others produce sticky fluids or spray chemicals – and is one of the key ways to tell species apart.
Flying termites or alates are the winged reproductives that swarm out from the nest to establish new colonies. Male and females pair off and look for a suitable environment to mate and set up a new nest. These termite swarming events happen on humid nights in spring and summer.
Nest in tree stumps, under properties, verandas and fireplaces. Schedorhinotermes can be a tricky termite to control as they will develop lots of small nests over an area rather than have one large central nest.