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Coptotermes formosanus

What do they look like?

There are three kinds of Formosoan subterranean termites. Each of these termites have different roles in the colony. They are soldiers, workers, and reproductives. Soldiers have an orange-brown oval-shaped head with an off white colored body and large black mouthparts called mandibles. Workers of this species are hard to tell apart from other termite species. These worker termites are generally all off-white with antennas and an anatomy similar to ants. Reproductives have a pale yellow color and body length of around 12 to 15 mm. Reproductives are the only type of termite that have wings. They have four wings with dark veins. (Su and Scheffrahn, 2013; Texas A&M Department of Entomology, 2010)

  • Range length
    15 (high) mm
    0.59 (high) in

Where do they live?

The Formosan subterranean termite, Coptotermes formosanus is native to southern China and has been brought to many other regions in the world. In the 1600's the termite was transported to Japan, and later brought to Hawaii in the late 1800's. It was then reported around 1950 to have invaded Africa. In 1960, the Formosan subterranean termite began to appear in the United States and, as of 2010, it is found throughout the southeast area of the nation, including much of Florida, Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, North Carolina, and South Carolina, with a smaller population in Tennessee. (Su and Scheffrahn, 2013)

What kind of habitat do they need?

Formosan subterranean termites live in nests underground. Their nests are made up of a specialized material they make themselves called carton. When finished, the nests look like rocky structures, even though they are made of soil, chewed wood or plants, and the termite's saliva and feces. Formosan subterranean termites dwell in moist environments and can be found in forests as well as some urban areas. More common areas where they can find moisture are on man-made structures such as boats, porches, flat rooftops, or gutters. If there is an area with food for them and plenty of moisture, they will try to build nests there. These termites have been known to even live in the trunks of trees, both dead and alive, as well as in the walls of homes and buildings. (Su, 2006)

How do they grow?

After mating has occurred a female finds a moist crevice, usually in wood, to lay 15 to 20 eggs. The eggs take anywhere between two to four weeks to hatch into young termites called nymphs. The female and male will take care of the nymphs until they go through several stages called instars. At the third instar, the nymphs begin to show signs of which type of termite they will be (worker, soldier, or reproductive). One to two months later, a new generation may begin. From here on out, the workers will take care of the eggs and nymphs. ("Coptotermes formosanus", 2014)

How do they reproduce?

For termite species, only certain types called reproductives are able to reproduce. They have wings, and both males and females will take flight in large groups outside the nest. Formosan subterranean termites take flight at dusk during the late spring and summer. Once the termites have flown a short distance, they fall to the ground and lose their wings. They pair off in mating pairs, and each pair finds a small area to mate in, typically in a small hole in wood or in the ground. Each pair will begin a new colony, and will become the king and queen of their colony. The queen is ready to lay her eggs shortly after. (Hussender, et al., 2005; Su and Scheffrahn, 2013; Su, 2006)

The first batch of 15 to 20 eggs that the queen lays will hatch in a few weeks. The king and queen will take care of this first group. When this group grows up, the workers from this first group will take care of the eggs and larvae from then on. The queen and king continue to mate and the queen keeps laying eggs throughout their lives. This causes the colony to grow large in size. Once the colony reaches a certain size, or if the queen dies, more reproductives, known as secondary reproductives, may begin mating and producing offspring for the colony. Three to five years of reproduction may be necessary to create a substantial colony that causes damage. (Su and Scheffrahn, 2013; Su, 2006)

  • How often does reproduction occur?
    The king and queen continue to mate throughout their lives.
  • Breeding season
    Queens reproduce throughout the year.

There is a significant amount of parental care in termite colonies. The king and queen protect and provide food for the first batch of eggs they produce. After the first batch, worker termites take over the care of the eggs and nymphs. This care is necessary for the survival of the young to adulthood. (Su, 2006)

  • Parental Investment
  • male parental care
  • female parental care
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female

How long do they live?

The queen in the colony of termites can live up to 15 years. Other individuals in the colony, such as workers, likely live for a much shorter amount of time. ("Coptotermes formosanus", 2011)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    15 (high) years

How do they behave?

Formosan subterranean termites have different roles in the colony. There are workers, soldiers, and reproductives. Reproductives will leave the colony, find mates, and begin new colonies. Soldiers defend the colony against predators. Workers are responsible for all other tasks, including care of the eggs and larvae, maintaining the nest, and searching for food.

Each colony, in time, grows over an area of approximately 50 meters or more from the original nest. Formosan subterranean termites have huge colonies, containing hundreds of thousands of individuals. Once introduced into a new environment, these termites swarm the land. Because they are weak fliers, they need help traveling so they look for soil and other materials that get transported by humans to other areas. When these termites start building nests in man-made structures, they find entries in cracks, crevices, and holes in which they begin their tunneling. Through these holes they make mud tubes lined with carton. (Hussender, et al., 2005; Su and Scheffrahn, 2013)

Home Range

Formosan subterranean termites stay near their nest throughout their lives, but will look for food up to 300 feet away from the colony. (Su and Scheffrahn, 2013)

How do they communicate with each other?

Formosan subterranean termites use chemicals called pheromones to communicate with each other. Reproductives produce pheromones to attract mates. Termite queens also produce pheromones that keep all the other individuals in the colony working and functioning correctly. (Jordan and Lax, 2014)

What do they eat?

Formosoan subterranean termites feed on wood. When they are not feeding on wood, they may be eating other products similar to wood, such as cardboard and paper. While some people think that termites also eat other household materials that they build nests in, such as insulation, plastics, and plaster, the termites do not eat anything besides wood. They attack these other materials, but do not eat them. (Hu, 2003; Su, 2006)

  • Plant Foods
  • wood, bark, or stems

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

When reproductive termites are taking flight in big groups, it is easy for predators to prey on them. General predators of Formosoan subterranean termites include ants, lizards, toads, and birds. ("Coptotermes formosanus", 2014)

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

Formosan subterranean termites are an invasive species. This means that they now live in areas that they did not used to live in. In these areas, they compete with native animals for resources and habitat spaces. Since Formosan subterranean termites have very large numbers, it is easy for them to use up resources before other native animals can use them. This causes problems for the native animals. These termites are also harmful to trees, as they will hollow live trees out to build their nests inside. However, since they will also nest in dead trees, this is beneficial to the environment as it breaks down and speeds up the normal rate of decay. ("Coptotermes formosanus", 2014; Su, 2006)

Do they cause problems?

The Formosan subterranean termite causes huge amounts of damage to trees, buildings, and wooden structures. It causes damage world wide, and it is increasing in the United States. Households are perfect year-round shelters for these termites, as they are built out of wood and are heated during the cold winter months. These termite colonies quickly tunnel through homes, causing serious damage in 6 months, and complete destruction in 2 years. United States citizens spend an estimated $1 billion per year trying to prevent colonies of Formosan subterranean termites building nests in their homes and buildings, as well as repairing damages caused by them. (Hu, 2003; Su, 2006)

  • Ways that these animals might be a problem for humans
  • household pest

How do they interact with us?

Formosan subterranean termites have no positive effects on humans.

Are they endangered?

Formosan subterranean termites are not an endangered species. Instead, they are an invasive species. They also build nests in homes and buildings which destroys the buildings, so people are more concerned with getting rid of these termites. (Su, 2006)

Contributors

Andrew Elbe (author), Grand View University, Kylar McCann (author), Grand View University, Raquel Relph (author), Grand View University, Felicitas Avendano (editor), Grand View University, Dan Chibnall (editor), Grand View University, Angela Miner (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.

References

2011. "Coptotermes formosanus" (On-line). Encyclopedia of Life. Accessed March 12, 2014 at http://eol.org/pages/463846/overview.

2014 CABI. 2014. "Coptotermes formosanus" (On-line). Invasive Species Compendium. Accessed March 12, 2014 at http://www.cabi.org/iscbeta/datasheet/15284#toImpact:Biodiversity.

Hu, X. 2003. "Formosan Subterranean Termites" (On-line pdf). Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities. Accessed March 12, 2014 at http://www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/A/ANR-1035/ANR-1035.pdf.

Hussender, C., M. Messenger, N. Su, J. Grace, E. Vargo. 2005. Colony Social Organization and Population Genetic Structure of an Introduced Population of Formosan Subterranean Termite from New Orleans, Louisiana. Journal of Economic Entomology, 98/5: 1421-1434.

Jordan, P., A. Lax. 2014. "The Formosan Termite A Formidable Foe!" (On-line). United States Department of Agriculture. Accessed March 12, 2014 at http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/ar/archive/oct98/term1098.htm.

Su, N. 2006. "Coptotermes formosanus" (On-line). Global Invasive Species Database. Accessed March 12, 2014 at http://www.issg.org/database/species/ecology.asp?si=61&fr=1&sts=sss&lang=EN.

Su, N., R. Scheffrahn. 1988. Foraging Population and Territory of the Formosan Subterannean Termite (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae) in an Urban Environment. Sociobiology, 14(2): 353-359.

Su, N., R. Scheffrahn. 2013. "Formosan Subterranean Termite" (On-line). Formosan Subterranean Termite. Accessed March 10, 2014 at http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/urban/termites/formosan_termite.htm.

Texas A&M Department of Entomology, 2010. "Coptotermes formosanus" (On-line). Texas A&M Agrilife. Accessed March 10, 2014 at http://urbanentomology.tamu.edu/wdi/termites/formosan.html.

 
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Elbe, A.; K. McCann and R. Relph 2014. "Coptotermes formosanus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed December 10, 2017 at http://www.biokids.umich.edu/accounts/Coptotermes_formosanus/

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
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