Termites

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Termite Species in South Africa

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 various different species of termites in South Africa but only a handful cause problems to properties:

  • Neotermes spp
  • Coptotermes spp
  • Cryptotermes spp. (native)

Of the above, it is the Coptotermes and Cryptotermes species that are the termites that cause the most damage.

Termite Society

The basic castes in a colony are queens, kings, workers, soldiers and alates.

Termite Queen and King

Giving life to the colony

The function of the Queen and King in the termite colony is to reproduce. Starting out life each as an Alate, they leave their parents' colony, drop to the ground and shed their wings to seek out an environment in which to nest. They care for their young until they are able to take over the duties of the colony.

Termite Workers

The 'doers'

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 affects so many homes.

Termite Soldiers

The colony's defence

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

The future Queens and Kings

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!

Coptotermes spp.

Family: Rhinotermitidae (subfamily Coptotermitidae)
Genus: Coptotermes
Type: Subterranean.
Castes: Queen, king, soldier, worker, reproductive.
Nest type:

  • Mud-tunnel builders: Due to the fact that they need food sources, they are required to sometimes move above the surface of the ground. This is when they build mud tunnels. These mud tunnels serve two purposes, firstly, as previously mentioned, to control the humidity in the air in order to prevent desecration and secondly to protect them from natural enemies such as ants. 
  • Soft bodied insects that rely on high humidity and moisture in the air to survive as they have a very permeable "skin" which leads to constant moisture and gas exchange through it. Within the soil they can control the humidity in the air and thus create a perfect living environment for themselves.
  • They nest underground (hence the term "sub-terrainian").
  • These termites will move about below the surface of the ground as much as possible and build tunnels for shorts distances to get from one point of cover to the next making detection challenging.

Distribution: Although found predominantly in Gauteng and the Western Cape, these termites are widely spread throughout South Africa.

This is one of the most destructive termite species in South Africa. It attacks all timber structures in buildings and damages trees.

Cryptotermes spp.

Family: Kalotermitidae (subfamily Cryptotermes)
Genus: Cryptotermes
Type: Drywood
Castes: Queen, king, soldier, reproductive.

Nest type: Dry wood termites live inside wood. If a piece of lumber is infested with dry wood termites, the whole colony is sealed inside that wood.

Distribution: Although found predominantly in KwaZulu Natal, these termites can be found throughout South Africa.

If a piece of lumber is infested with dry wood termites, the whole colony is sealed inside that wood. Galleries are eaten from the inside out until all that is left is the outside shell of the wood, making a dry wood termite infestation very hard to detect.

Activity is usually detected when is too late and usually requires a piece of the wooden structure to be replaced as well as a large part to be treated.

Neotermes spp.

Family: Kalotermitidae (subfamily Neotermes)
Genus: Neotermes
Type: Dampwood
Castes: Queen, king, soldier, worker, reproductive.
Nest type: Dampwood termites generally live in damp rotting logs or rotten pockets in dead or living trees.

Distribution: These termites can be found throughout South Africa, infesting wood with high moisture content.

  • Neotermes are a lot like leaf cutting ants in their behaviour.
  • They differ from the other two types in their food preference. Where sub-terrainians and dry wood target wood, harvester termites feed mostly on grass, which makes them more of a headache for people with lawns.
  • However it has been known that they can target thatch roofs, which can also leads to costly damage.
  • One major difference from an identification point of view is that harvester termites, although soft bodied, are sclerotized which means that their "skin" is a bit hardened and as a result not as permeable, making the more resilient to desecration.
  • These termites are darker (yellow to dark brown) than the other two types (whitish-creamy) and run around above the surface freely, much the same as ants.

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