The Species of Termites Found in Australia 

What are the different termite species in Australia? What are the different factors that increase the risk of an infestation? How destructive are termites? In this article, we will be discussing species, classifications and the different factors that may increase the risk for termite infestation.

Termites are common in Australia, with more than 300 species calling it home. They are so many that it is impossible to list them all!

Only a few species cause significant economic damage to properties, crops and other cellulose-containing materials. Most termites are a great asset to our ecosystem by recycling dead and rotten timber and other plant matters as a food source for other animals.

Categories of Termite Species in Australia

Termites are grouped into three main categories: Subterranean, Damp Wood and Dry Wood termites. These categories are grouped according to their nesting and feeding habits:

Subterranean – The most widespread type of termites, use underground tunnels to forage for food, which includes fallen trees and stumps. For a colony to thrive, it must be built close to moisture.

Dry wood – They live in small nests, which are often found inside a piece of wood. They derive all the moisture they need from both softwood and hardwood timber and don’t require any other source of moisture or contact with the ground.

Damp wood – These termites are often found in moist, rotten wood connected to the ground or source of dampness. They attack wood located outdoors such as a log or a tree stump.

Termites are further grouped into native and introduced categories. Here is a look at the native and introduced species of termites we have in Australia.

Destructive Native Termites

The most destructive native subterranean species in Australia, coptotermes termites are common throughout the mainland. Except in Queensland, coptotermes don’t inhabit mounds.

Destructive Introduced Species of Termites

The West Indian dry wood termite came all the way from northern South America to Australia in the 1960s.

Other destructive introduced species include Cryptotermes brevis, Cryptotermes domesticus, Cryptotermes dudleyi, Cryptotermes cynocephalus and Indo-Malaysian dry wood termite. These termites were originally from southern and south-east Asia and islands encompassing the Asia Pacific region.

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How Do You Identify Termites?

Termites are sometimes called white ants because of their similarity in appearance with ants. The two pests definitely don’t look the same. Even termites of different species vary in appearances, not to mention their feeding habits and potential for causing economic damage.

Commonly Encountered Species During Termite Treatment

The following are the termites that are commonly encountered by pest control specialists in various properties around the country:

  • Coptotermes acinaciformis
  • Coptotermes frenchi, C. lacteus
  • Mastotermes darwiniensis
  • Cryptotermes genus
  • Coptotermes acinaciformis
  • Heterotermes ferox
  • Schedorhinotermes intermedius
  • Nasutitermes fumigatus
  • Nasutitermes walker
Image of subterranean termites

Subterranean, Native

Coptotermes acinaciformis 

Soldiers have rectangular, pear-shaped yellow heads and mandibles that are darker in colour, smooth and thin. They are often mistaken for two other native termites: Coptotermes species, C. frenchi and C. lacteus.

They don’t build mounds, but instead nest in trees, especially English Oaks, and different eucalypts and peppercorns. They can build underground tunnels as long as 50 metres from nest to their source of food.

Coptotermes acinaciformis are present in the mainland, except in a few high-rainfall regions and along the eastern coastlines.

Mastotermes darwiniensis 

The heads of the soldiers, workers and alates are rounded yellow to reddish brown, with short black mandibles. They are considered the most primitive species of termites because of some characteristics they share with cockroaches.

Though their nests are on the ground, Mastotermes darwiniensis does not build mounds. They can build tunnels as long as 100 metres.

They are the most destructive species because of the rapidity and extent of damage they can cause in building and agricultural crops. They can attack a variety of products including wooden structures, plant products such as paper, sugar and flour, and even plastic electrical cables, lead pipes and concrete.

These termites are common in Northern Territory, Queensland and Western Australia.

Coptotermes frenchi, C. lacteus 

The soldiers of these species are smaller than C. acinaciformis and their heads are also pear shaped. They build mounds in the ground, tree trunks. They can cause damage to property but not as severe C. acinaciformis.

These termites are found in New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia.

Nasutitermes fumigatus

The workers are bigger than the solders, with heads that are pale orange and pointed snout. They nest in the ground and on rotten wood. Their sources of food are moist and weathered wood.

They are most common in South-eastern Australia.

Heterotermes ferox 

The soldiers have long rectangular heads and long mandibles. Soldiers and workers are not aggressive even when disturbed. They generally cause minor economic damage on weather wood of poles, fences, posts, floors and timber decks. Sol

Heterotermes ferox is present in Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales. Queensland, Victoria, South Australia and southern Western Australia.

Schedorhinotermes intermedius 

This species has major and minor soldiers. The minor soldiers have a narrow head while the major soldiers have bulbous heads.

The second most destructive species of termites in Australia, Schedorhinotermes intermedius attacks timber buried in the ground. They can build several subterranean colonies, which can house several thousands of termites.

Schedorhinotermes intermedius is found primarily in the coastal regions of South East Queensland and Sydney. They are closely linked to S. actuosus, S. breinli, S. derosus, S. seclusus, S. reticulatus.

Nasutitermes walker 

The workers are larger than the soldiers, with orange-coloured heads and pointed snouts. Their food includes decomposed and weathered hardwood timber in moist conditions or in contact with the ground.

These termites occur in New South Wales and Queensland.

Identifying the species of termites in an infestation is vital to provide the most effective and long-term treatment and control of the pests.

Dry wood, Introduced

Cryptotermes genus (dry wood, introduced)

This genus has a major termite pest: Cryptotermes brevis, and minor termite pests: C. cynocephalus, Indo-Malaysian drywood termite, C. domesticus, C. dudleyi and C. primus.

These termites are prevalent in New South Wales, Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia.

Cryptotermes brevis, or the West Indian dry wood termite, is an invasive species that is included in the Australian Biosecurity Act 2014 to control its spread. The soldiers are characterized with a rugose, or wrinkled, head.

These termites are found in Brisbane, Maryborough, Bundaberg, and Rockhampton, in Queensland as well as in Sydney, NSW and Canberra.

 
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Caste System of Termites

Termites are social insects and thus maintain a caste system. They live in colonies and each termite has a role to play in order to maintain and sustain their colony.

A colony comprises three castes (with the exception of some Mastotermes):

  • The Reproductives comprise the queen and king and future reproductives, called alates, which will eventually leave the colony, mate and form new colonies.
  • The Soldiers, the defenders of the colony.
  • The Workers travel long distances using underground tunnels and mudtubes to forage for food for the entire colony. A termite colony comprises mostly of workers. They are also the most destructive group because they are in charge of hunting for food.

A single colony can house more than one million termites. The Queen can live for at least 50 years, while the workers can live for up to six years.

Each year, 60,000 reproductives will fly away from their colonies to find their mate and establish their own colonies.

Image of The Three termite Caste
Image of The Three termite Caste

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Factors that Increase the Risk of Termites

Termites are a natural part of our ecosystem, but they still need to be avoided at all costs, given the economic impact they cause on properties. Knowing the ideal conditions that increase the potential for termite attack can help in keeping them away.

Availability of food and shelter. A sure way to attract termites is the availability of food and shelter. Termites have a voracious appetite for anything cellulose (even non-cellulose things), including timber structures and wood piles. If these materials are available in your property, you are inviting termites into your property.

Moisture and humidity. Termites thrive on moisture and humidity, which is why they nest on damp, decayed wood, or any wood that is in contact with the ground. Humid, damp areas in buildings such as walls with leaking pipes and humid basement are appealing to them.

Shrubbery and wood products around the property. Properties with dense vegetation and stored timber attract termites. These things also help them hide their activity from people.

Termite infestation at your neighbours. Even if you’re doing your best to keep termites away, your efforts may be for naught if your close neighbours are doing the opposite. When termites are done with your neighbours, the next victim could be you.

Lack of termite barrier or control. Even if you’re doing all the right things, there is still a chance of a termite attack, especially if your home has no termite barrier in place. Installing one is an effective preventive measure to discourage termites.

How Destructive Are Termites?

Termites are good at hiding their activity from humans that considerable damage could be done to a property before an infestation is discovered. Home or building insurance doesn’t cover termite damage, which can be extensive and expensive, especially in structures that are unprotected.

The cost can range from an average of $7000 to more than $100,000 in more severe cases. In addition to the structure of buildings, termites can also wreak havoc on other objects such as furniture, paper products, as well as non-cellulose products such as rigid foam insulation and building sealants.

How Do Your Protect Your Property from Termites?

The best prevention against termite is by having your house inspected annually to check for rotting wood, mud tubes or obvious signs of termite presence in and around your home.

Because most termites thrive on moisture, make sure to dry all moisture and repair any water leak from pipes, gutters, etc. Don’t store lumber or firewood near your house; store them at a safe distance to keep termites away.

With so many different species, it is hard even for pest control specialists to identify termites. But with experience, know-how and advanced technologies, they are still the best people to call when you’re dealing with termites.

If you see signs of termite presence in your property or suspect it, contact your local pest control experts immediately!

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