Dr Don's Termite Pages


Termites are diverse. The different types of termites do very different things. It is important to find out what type of termite you have.

termites in a tunnel

Order Isoptera:
(Pronounced Eye-sop-ter-a) , the termites, from the Greek, Iso meaning equal and pteron, meaning wing. The name refers to the wings of the reproductive caste, which isn't very helpful as most termites are workers or nymphs and never get to grow wings. There are two pairs of wings, with the front pair the same size as the hind pair. The name termite comes from the Latin word for woodworm.
an alate
Rflavipes alateSmall, pale, soft-bodied social insects living in a nest or colony system. Primarily cellulose feeding. Divided into castes, the most numerous caste are relatively undifferentiated and perform much of the colony work, there is a specialised soldier caste with head and jaw structures differentiated with stronger features and often mouthparts more suited to defence than feeding. The reproductive caste, known as alates (winged ones) are produced when nymphs mature to develop wings and a generally darker colouring. Metamorphosis is gradual (no pupal stage)

Head rounded, eyes generally absent except in the reproductive caste, antennae beaded, wings absent except in reproductive caste. Chewing mouthparts. Wings deciduous, shed shortly after Clacteus female signallingnuptial flight through breakage at a suture near point of attachment (hence de-alate), leaving small scales which persist. Termites are weak fliers, flights occur only under favourable conditions: nearly still air, high humidity and with falling barometric pressure indicating a likelihood of following rain. No constriction of the abdomen (as in ants, bees and wasps). Here's a similar description at the University of Delaware

Distribution & Biology:
About 3,000 species comprising about 300 genera. Mostly tropical or subtropical, distribution generally between 48 degrees North or South. Distribution limited by temperature envelope, especially winter minima, availability of moisture and nesting sites. Food rarely limiting. Found in most terrestrial habitats, including grasslands, shrublands, open and closed forests. Greatest diversity in heathlands and tropic rainforests. Mostly detrivorous, hence propensity to feed upon timber constructions. Poor dispersal by natural means, but spread widely by human action (eg. West Indian drywood termite and Formosan subterranean termite are now pests in many countries). Colony integration in part maintained by a complex series of chemical communications, such as the female above, releasing a scent to attract a mate or the various chemicals used to lay feeding trails.

    • Mastotermitidae: Only a single species survives from this once widespread group. Mastotermes darwiniensis is generally restricted to tropical Australia, but has apparently recently become established in New Guinea. These termites are large and most closely resemble their cockroach ancestors. They have a reputation as the world's worst termite pest, but are patchy in distribution and can be readily managed. And, they give quite a bite!
    • Kalotermitidae:
      This family is often referred to as the Drywood termites because of their ability to survive with much less water than the other families. Generally living in small colonies which are contained entirely within the timber being consumed. These are sometimes a major threat to buildings but are of little consequence in Nature.
    • Termopsidae:
      Called the Dampwood termites, this family typically inhabits damp, fungus-decayed timber in trees and logs. Often quite large, these termites are eaily collected and maintained and make good pets!
    • Rhinotermitidae:
      Known as the Subterranean termites. Rhinotermitids usually nest in the ground or the base of trees. They most often remain in contact with the ground, into which they tunnel and collect water. Their colonies often become exceedingly large, and they may feed upon many different food sources, many metres apart. Most house-eaters are in this Family.
    • Termitidae:
      Sometimes called the Higher termites, this family is extremely diverse, reflecting a wide variety of diets and specialisations. Members include the fungus-growing Macrotermitinae, others that feed upon the humus in soil, and the Nasutitermitinae with their glue-gun headed soldiers.

    Some taxonomists add another Family, the Serritermitidae, but it's only got one species in it.

    Just a few other sites with termite biology:

    Tim Myles' and Co at U Toronto
    Michael Breed's behavioural approach
    And then there's Terminix's amazing marketing tool, the swarming map of the US.

    What else does the web know about the Order Isoptera?   Click for an instant listing.

    - - - - Lot's more to come here - - - -
    In the mean time, check out this piece on colony integration

      Dr Don's Termite Pages   www.drdons.net/biology.htm   Copyright ©1995-2007