Coptotermitinae

Coptotermitinae is the name of a sub–family of subterranean termites. They belong to the family Rhinotermitidae. There is only one genus in this group. This is the group of termites called Coptotermes.

There are several species of termites in the Coptotermitinae. In Eastern Australia, there is a member of this group that builds mounds. This is the "milk–white" termite, Coptotermes lacteus (Froggatt). The mounds can be as tall as 2 meters (approximately 6’).

The milk–white termite attacks wood that has been damaged by weather. It readily eats stumps, logs, dead trees, fences, and poles. It also attacks structures if there is wood touching the ground.

Two Coptotermes species are especially well known in the southern part of the United States. Both species were accidentally imported.

The Formosan subterranean termite, Coptotermes formosanus (Shiraki) is a very destructive pest. It was first identified in Hawaii in 1906. It was found in South Carolina in the 1950’s. Since that time, it has spread across the Southeast from South Carolina to Texas. It has also been found in California.

While each termite eats the same amount of wood as any other subterranean termite, the Formosan termite colonies can contain millions of termites. These termites cause severe damage because of the number of termites that attack a food source. The workers can forage as far as 300’ from the nest to find food.

Formosan subterranean termite workers look very similar to other subterranean termites. Scientists often find it easier to identify these pests by examining the soldiers or the swarmers.

Formosan termite soldiers have a rounded, or tear–drop–shaped head. They are very aggressive and there are more soldiers than in a colony of native subterranean termites. . If they are cornered, they can emit a defensive fluid from an opening on their head.

The swarmers are about ½" long. They are yellow or brownish–yellow. There are tiny hairs n the swarmers’ wings. Formosan termites swarm in the evening instead of during the day as many other subterranean termites do.

Formosan subterranean termites attack homes and buildings. They can enter through tiny cracks in the concrete slab or the foundation. As the termite workers continue to pass through the crack, they make it larger. Many people have wondered if the termites ate through the concrete to get into the home.

Formosan subterranean termites often make an aboveground nest when there is a moisture source. The termites make material called "carton" to make these nests. They construct the carton from wood, soil, and their own droppings.

The workers often build these carton nests inside of wall voids. These aerial nests can make Formosan subterranean termites more difficult to control than native subterranean termites.

The Asian subterranean termite, Coptotermes gestroi (Wasmann), was found in Hawaii in 1993. It was found in South Florida in 1996. Since then, it seems to be moving up the Florida peninsula.

Scientists often need a microscope to distinguish C. formosanus from C. gestroi. There are tiny differences in the heads of the soldiers. A more visible difference is in the color of the swarmers. Formosan subterranean termite swarmers are yellow to yellowish–brown. The swarmers of C. gestroi are very dark in comparison.