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Termites are considered to be the most destructive insect pests in the world. Many buildings and structures are damaged by these pests each year resulting in huge financial losses.
There are 300 different species of termites in Australia, but only a handful cause problems to properties:
Of all these, it is the Coptotermes species that are “public enemy number 1” in Australia.
The basic castes in a colony are queens, kings, workers, soldiers and alates.
The function of the Queen and King in the termite colony is to reproduce. Starting out life as an Alate, they leave their parents' colony, drop to the ground and shed their wings to seek out an environment to nest. They care for their young until they are able to take over the duties of the colony.
The workers make up the largest number within a colony. They do all of the work (except defend and reproduce): feeding, grooming, excavating the nest and making tunnels. In doing their jobs, they cause the destruction that effects so many homes.
Soldiers defend the colony against attack by predatory enemies such as ants, and are equipped with large jaws, sticky fluids or chemical spray to do so.
Alates are the winged reproductives that swarm out from the nest and establish new colonies. Male and females pair off and look for a suitable environment to mate. They are often confused for moths!
Family: Rhinotermitidae (subfamily Coptotermitidae)
Castes: Queen, king, soldier, worker, reproductive.
Nest type: Coptotermes generally do not build mounds, except in Queensland and other tropical areas of Australia. They mostly nests in trees, stumps, poles, or filled-in verandahs where timber has been buried. Favoured trees for nesting are English oaks, various eucalypts and peppercorns. The colony is mostly found in the root crown or the lower part of the trunk.
Distribution: Coptotermes acinaciformis is present over the entire Australian mainland, except in a few high-rainfall areas and along some of the eastern coastline, from Jervis Bay in New South Wales to Cape Otway in Victoria.
Economic significance: This is the most destructive termite species in Australia. It attacks all timber structures and damages forest and ornamental trees as well as fruit trees. Although Mastotermes darwiniensis is the more destructive where both occur together, Mastotermes darwiniensis is confined to the top part of Australia, mostly in the tropical areas.
Soil contact is desirable for this species, but not essential, provided that it has an assured moisture supply and security in its habitat. Colonies have been found on the top of multistorey buildings where there is a constant water supply, but no ground contact. Large colonies have also been found inside wooden barges that do not have contact with the ground, moisture being supplied through the timber from the fresh or salt water. This species has caused fire by shorting out electrical wiring, in fact in a Sydney hospital the wiring was so severely damaged it caused an electrical black-out to a large and sensitive part of the hospital.
Coptotermes lacteus and Coptotermes frenchi are also very destructive pests in their own right but cause far less damaged to established properties than Coptotermes acinaciformis. Coptotermes frenchi are mainly a green forest pest and Coptotermes lacteus attacks serviceable timber that already has a level of decay.
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