Subterranean Termite (Coptotermes acinaciformis)
Structure, Appearance and Characteristics
5.0-6.6mm in length.
Has sabre like mandibles with no obvious teeth.
Labrum not grooved.
Head is pear-shaped and rounded laterally.
Fontanelle is obvious on the anterior part of the head.
Tarsi - 4 segments.
Abdominal cerci - 2 segments.
Pronotum flat, no anterior lobes.
Gradual / Incomplete metamorphosis (egg – nymph – adult). Queen lays eggs singly. A nymph after hatching passes through 4-7 moults before becoming a mature worker, soldier or winged reproductive. Nymphs resemble the adults or mature castes. Nymphal stage lasts approx 2-3 months, depending of food and climactic conditions. No pupal stage exists. Soldiers and Workers live 1-2 years.
There are 4 different castes of adults:
Queen & King:
The queen and king are the original winged reproductives (dealates). When a new colony is formed the pair must feed and care for the young until there are sufficient soldiers and workers to take over the duties of the colony.
The most abundant caste in the colony, performing all the tasks in the colony except defence and reproduction. It is this caste that does the damage to timber. Males and females whose sexual organs and characteristics have not developed. Wingless, blind and sterile. Thin cuticle which makes them susceptible to desiccation. Will only leave the security of underground tunnels and shelter tubes when humidity is high or in the search for new food sources.
Most distinctive caste and the easiest caste from which to identify a species. The role of this caste is to defend the colony. Males and females whose sexual organs and characteristics have not developed. Like workers, they are susceptible to desiccation and seldom leave the colony or shelter tubes. The fontanelle is used to discharge a secretion associated with defence, since it is a repellent to ants and other enemies of termites.
The future kings and queens. Having compound eyes, they are darker in colour and have a more dense cuticle than workers and soldiers. They are often larger. When fully winged (alates) a colonising flight will occur when humidity and temperature conditions outside approximate the conditions inside the colony, normally in summer months.
Mostly nests in trees, stumps, poles or filled-in verandahs where timber has been buried. Soil contact is desirable, but not essential depending on an assured water supply and security in its habitat. Found in all states and territories of mainland Australia.
Workers feed on wood, wood products, leaves, bark and grass. The cellulose of wood is digested by intestinal protozoa. The other castes are fed by the workers from oral and anal excretions. Protein is also required in the diet, which is usually supplied by fungi that decay wood and vegetation.
This species is the most widely distributed and destructive in Australia. Only Mastotermes darwiniensis is more destructive, however, Mastotermes darwiniensis is confined to the top part of Australia, mostly in tropical areas. Attacks all timber structures and damages forests, ornamental trees and fruit trees. Apart from obvious damage to timber, it has caused fire by shorting out electrical wiring. The workers are the caste that cause the damage.
Refer to our Termite Section.
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