Cookies on Invasive Species Compendium

Like most websites we use cookies. This is to ensure that we give you the best experience possible.

Continuing to use www.cabi.org means you agree to our use of cookies. If you would like to, you can learn more about the cookies we use.

Datasheet

Coptotermes formosanus (Formosan subterranean termite)

Summary

  • Last modified
  • 22 June 2017
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Pest
  • Invasive Species
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Coptotermes formosanus
  • Preferred Common Name
  • Formosan subterranean termite
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Metazoa
  •     Phylum: Arthropoda
  •       Subphylum: Uniramia
  •         Class: Insecta
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • C. formosanus is often transported by boats and shipping containers to port cities before being carried further inland via landscape materials such as railroad ties (railway sleepers). This may explain the curr...

Don't need the entire report?

Generate a print friendly version containing only the sections you need.

Generate report

Pictures

Top of page
PictureTitleCaptionCopyright
Coptotermes formosanus (Formosan subterranean termite); the white, soft-bodied, workers are the most commonly seen caste in a C. formosanus colony and, are responsible for food acquisition and maintenance of nest galleries. Soldiers have an orange-brown, oval-shaped, head with curved mandibles and are responsible for defending the colony against invaders, such as ants.
TitleColony
CaptionCoptotermes formosanus (Formosan subterranean termite); the white, soft-bodied, workers are the most commonly seen caste in a C. formosanus colony and, are responsible for food acquisition and maintenance of nest galleries. Soldiers have an orange-brown, oval-shaped, head with curved mandibles and are responsible for defending the colony against invaders, such as ants.
Copyright©Nan-Yao Su
Coptotermes formosanus (Formosan subterranean termite); the white, soft-bodied, workers are the most commonly seen caste in a C. formosanus colony and, are responsible for food acquisition and maintenance of nest galleries. Soldiers have an orange-brown, oval-shaped, head with curved mandibles and are responsible for defending the colony against invaders, such as ants.
ColonyCoptotermes formosanus (Formosan subterranean termite); the white, soft-bodied, workers are the most commonly seen caste in a C. formosanus colony and, are responsible for food acquisition and maintenance of nest galleries. Soldiers have an orange-brown, oval-shaped, head with curved mandibles and are responsible for defending the colony against invaders, such as ants. ©Nan-Yao Su
Coptotermes formosanus (Formosan subterranean termite); soldier, dorsal view. Honolulu, Hawaii, USA. May, 1995.
TitleSoldier
CaptionCoptotermes formosanus (Formosan subterranean termite); soldier, dorsal view. Honolulu, Hawaii, USA. May, 1995.
Copyright©PaDIL/Simon Hinkley & Ken Walker/Museum Victoria - CC BY 3.0 AU
Coptotermes formosanus (Formosan subterranean termite); soldier, dorsal view. Honolulu, Hawaii, USA. May, 1995.
SoldierCoptotermes formosanus (Formosan subterranean termite); soldier, dorsal view. Honolulu, Hawaii, USA. May, 1995.©PaDIL/Simon Hinkley & Ken Walker/Museum Victoria - CC BY 3.0 AU
Coptotermes formosanus (Formosan subterranean termite); soldier, lateral view. Honolulu, Hawaii, USA. May, 1995.
TitleSoldier
CaptionCoptotermes formosanus (Formosan subterranean termite); soldier, lateral view. Honolulu, Hawaii, USA. May, 1995.
Copyright©PaDIL/Simon Hinkley & Ken Walker/Museum Victoria - CC BY 3.0 AU
Coptotermes formosanus (Formosan subterranean termite); soldier, lateral view. Honolulu, Hawaii, USA. May, 1995.
SoldierCoptotermes formosanus (Formosan subterranean termite); soldier, lateral view. Honolulu, Hawaii, USA. May, 1995.©PaDIL/Simon Hinkley & Ken Walker/Museum Victoria - CC BY 3.0 AU
Coptotermes formosanus (Formosan subterranean termite); head of soldier, dorsal view. Honolulu, Hawaii, USA. May, 1995.
TitleHead
CaptionCoptotermes formosanus (Formosan subterranean termite); head of soldier, dorsal view. Honolulu, Hawaii, USA. May, 1995.
Copyright©PaDIL/Simon Hinkley & Ken Walker/Museum Victoria - CC BY 3.0 AU
Coptotermes formosanus (Formosan subterranean termite); head of soldier, dorsal view. Honolulu, Hawaii, USA. May, 1995.
HeadCoptotermes formosanus (Formosan subterranean termite); head of soldier, dorsal view. Honolulu, Hawaii, USA. May, 1995.©PaDIL/Simon Hinkley & Ken Walker/Museum Victoria - CC BY 3.0 AU
Coptotermes formosanus (Formosan subterranean termite); head of soldier, lateral view. Honolulu, Hawaii, USA. May, 1995.
TitleHead
CaptionCoptotermes formosanus (Formosan subterranean termite); head of soldier, lateral view. Honolulu, Hawaii, USA. May, 1995.
Copyright©PaDIL/Simon Hinkley & Ken Walker/Museum Victoria - CC BY 3.0 AU
Coptotermes formosanus (Formosan subterranean termite); head of soldier, lateral view. Honolulu, Hawaii, USA. May, 1995.
HeadCoptotermes formosanus (Formosan subterranean termite); head of soldier, lateral view. Honolulu, Hawaii, USA. May, 1995.©PaDIL/Simon Hinkley & Ken Walker/Museum Victoria - CC BY 3.0 AU
Coptotermes formosanus (Formosan subterranean termite); life history.
TitleLife history
CaptionCoptotermes formosanus (Formosan subterranean termite); life history.
Copyright©Nan-Yao Su
Coptotermes formosanus (Formosan subterranean termite); life history.
Life historyCoptotermes formosanus (Formosan subterranean termite); life history.©Nan-Yao Su

Identity

Top of page

Preferred Scientific Name

  • Coptotermes formosanus Shiraki, 1909

Preferred Common Name

  • Formosan subterranean termite

Other Scientific Names

  • Coptotermes formosae Holmgren, 1911
  • Coptotermes hongkongensis Oshima, 1914
  • Coptotermes intrudens Oshima, 1920
  • Coptotermes remotus Silvestri, 1928
  • Termes gestroi Oshima, 1911
  • Termes raffrayi Matsumura, 1910

International Common Names

  • English: Formosan subterranean termite; Formosan super termite; Formosan termite; oriental soil-nesting termite; subterranean, termite, oriental; super-termite
  • French: termite du Japon du sud

Local Common Names

  • China: chia pai yi
  • Japan: iye shiro ari; le-siroari

EPPO code

  • COPTFO (Coptotermes formosanus)

Summary of Invasiveness

Top of page

C. formosanus is often transported by boats and shipping containers to port cities before being carried further inland via landscape materials such as railroad ties (railway sleepers). This may explain the current C. formosanus distribution in the USA with coastal areas more densely infested than inland areas (Hochmair and Scheffrahn, 2010). Temperature and humidity are primary factors affecting the establishment of C. formosanus, and it is potentially invasive to areas of high humidity approximately 35° north and south of the equator (Su and Tamashiro, 1987). Competition from native species is another limiting factor for many exotic pests, but C. formosanus is more aggressive and is known to out-compete the endemic termites such as Reticulitermes species. Another factor that has allowed the successful establishment and spread of C. formosanus in exotic areas has been the pest control industry's heavy reliance on soil termiticide barriers for subterranean termite control since the 1950s. Numerous studies, using mark-recapture methods, have revealed that a single colony of C. formosanus might contain several million termites that forage up to 100 m in the soil (Lai, 1977; Su and Scheffrahn, 1988). These agree with the results of excavation studies for C. formosanus colonies (Ehrhorn, 1934; King and Spink, 1969). Because of the large colony size, the application of soil termiticides beneath a structure does not usually have a major impact on the overall population, and the surviving colony continues to produce alates that can further infest nearby areas. Once established, C. formosanus has never been completely eradicated from an area. The dependency of soil termiticide barriers as the primary tool for subterranean termite control is probably the main reason for the establishment and spread of C. formosanus from four isolated port cities in the 1960s in the USA to all south-eastern states by 2001.

Taxonomic Tree

Top of page
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Metazoa
  •         Phylum: Arthropoda
  •             Subphylum: Uniramia
  •                 Class: Insecta
  •                     Order: Isoptera
  •                         Family: Rhinotermitidae
  •                             Genus: Coptotermes
  •                                 Species: Coptotermes formosanus

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

Top of page

C. formosanus was first described by Shiraki in 1909, but was immediately confused with Coptotermes gestroi by Oshima (1910). Oshima (1914) also created a new species, Coptotermes hongkongensis, which were probably the smaller individuals of aerial colonies of C. formosanus. Due to resource limitation, the aerial colonies tend to contain smaller termites (Su et al., 1997a). The common name accepted by the Entomological Society of America for C. formosanus is the Formosan subterranean termite but the simplified version: Formosan termite is also used. In Chinese and Japanese literature, Formosan termite may refer to other species. For example, Kalotermes inamurae is called Formosan wood termite in China, and Odontotermes formosanus is referred to as the Formosan termite in Japan. The translation of the Chinese common name for C. formosanus is 'house termite' (Chia = house, Pai = white and Yi = ant), reflecting the propensity of finding C. formosanus in a house. The Japanese common name is a direct translation of the Chinese name: Iye (= house) Shiro (= white) Ari (= ant). As with many cultures, both the Chinese and Japanese use the term 'white ants' for termites.

Description

Top of page

The colonies of C. formosanus contain three primary castes: the reproductives, soldiers, and workers. The majority of the nestmates are workers that are responsible for the acquisition of nutrients, i.e. cellulose in the wood. The head width of the white soft-bodied worker is approximately 1.2-1.3 mm and the body length is approximately 4-5 mm. The thorax is narrower than head width. The alates and soldiers are most useful for identification. The alates are yellowish-brown and 12-15 mm long. There are numerous small hairs on the wings of these comparatively large swarmers. The alates are attracted to lights, so they are usually found near windows, light fixtures, windowsills and spider webs, around well-lit areas. The soldiers are approximately the same size as the workers and have an orange-brown oval-shaped head, curved mandibles and a whitish body. When disturbed, the soldiers readily attack any approaching objects and may secrete a white gluey defensive secretion from the frontal gland. There are more soldiers (10-15%) in a C. formosanus colony than in a subterranean termite colony, such as Reticulitermes spp. (1-2%).

Distribution

Top of page

In addition to the listed locations, C. formosanus was reported from Sri Lanka (Ahmad, 1953) and Midway island (Clagg, 1958). Its presence in Midway has been confirmed, but Gay (1967) questioned its establishment in Sri Lanka. The presence of C. formosanus in Guam was first reported by Clagg (1958), which was cited and referred to by many authors (Gay, 1967; Hromada, 1970; Su and Tamashiro, 1987; Chambers et al., 1988), but it was later discovered to be Coptotermes vastator (Su and Scheffrahn, 1998a). Chhotani (1985) included Pakistan and Brazil as part of the distribution of C. formosanus, but the source of his listing is unknown, and its presence in these locations should be regarded with caution.

Distribution Table

Top of page

The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.

Continent/Country/RegionDistributionLast ReportedOriginFirst ReportedInvasiveReferenceNotes

Asia

ChinaPresentCABI/EPPO, 2008
-AnhuiPresent Invasive Huang et al., 1989; CABI/EPPO, 2008
-FujianWidespreadNative Invasive Huang et al., 1989; CABI/EPPO, 2008
-GuangdongWidespreadNative Invasive Huang et al., 1989; CABI/EPPO, 2008
-GuangxiPresent Invasive Huang et al., 1989; CABI/EPPO, 2008
-GuizhouPresentCABI/EPPO, 2008
-HainanWidespreadNative Invasive Huang et al., 1989; CABI/EPPO, 2008
-Hong KongWidespreadNative Invasive APPPC, 1987; Huang et al., 1989; CABI/EPPO, 2008
-HubeiPresent Invasive Huang et al., 1989; CABI/EPPO, 2008
-HunanPresent Invasive Huang et al., 1989; CABI/EPPO, 2008
-JiangsuPresent Invasive Huang et al., 1989; CABI/EPPO, 2008
-JiangxiPresent Invasive Huang et al., 1989; CABI/EPPO, 2008
-MacauWidespreadNative Invasive Huang et al., 1989; CABI/EPPO, 2008
-SichuanPresent Invasive Huang et al., 1989; CABI/EPPO, 2008
-ZhejiangPresent Invasive Huang et al., 1989; CABI/EPPO, 2008
JapanPresentCABI/EPPO, 2008
-Bonin IslandPresentCABI/EPPO, 2008
-HonshuPresentIntroduced Invasive Mori, 1987; CABI/EPPO, 2008
-KyushuPresentIntroduced1600s Invasive Mori, 1987; CABI/EPPO, 2008
-Ryukyu ArchipelagoWidespreadIntroduced Invasive Mori, 1987; CABI/EPPO, 2008
-ShikokuPresentIntroduced Invasive Mori, 1987; CABI/EPPO, 2008
TaiwanWidespreadIntroduced1800sSu, 2003a; CABI/EPPO, 2008

Africa

South AfricaPresentIntroduced1925 Invasive Coaton, 1950; CABI/EPPO, 2008

North America

USAPresentCABI/EPPO, 2008
-AlabamaPresentIntroduced1984 Invasive Su and Scheffrahn, 1986; CABI/EPPO, 2008
-CaliforniaPresentIntroduced1992 Invasive Atkinson et al., 1993; CABI/EPPO, 2008
-FloridaPresentIntroduced1980 Invasive Koehler, 1980; CABI/EPPO, 2008
-GeorgiaPresentIntroduced1993 Invasive Forschler et al., 2001; CABI/EPPO, 2008
-HawaiiWidespreadIntroduced1907 Invasive Swezey, 1914; CABI/EPPO, 2008
-LouisianaPresentIntroduced1966 Invasive Spink, 1967; CABI/EPPO, 2008
-MississippiPresentIntroduced1984 Invasive Su and Scheffrahn, 1986; CABI/EPPO, 2008
-North CarolinaPresentIntroduced1992 Invasive Su, 2003a; CABI/EPPO, 2008
-South CarolinaPresentIntroduced1957 Invasive Chambers et al., 1988; CABI/EPPO, 2008
-TennesseeAbsent, intercepted onlyIntroduced1984 Invasive Su and Scheffrahn, 1986; CABI/EPPO, 2008
-TexasPresentIntroduced1965 Invasive Beal, 1967; CABI/EPPO, 2008

Central America and Caribbean

United States Virgin IslandsPresentCABI/EPPO, 2008

Oceania

Marshall IslandsPresentIntroduced1958 Invasive Clagg, 1958; CABI/EPPO, 2008
US Minor Outlying IslandsPresentCABI/EPPO, 2008

History of Introduction and Spread

Top of page

The only known termitophile (Sinophilus xiai n. sp.) associated with C. formosanus was found in China (Kistner, 1985), suggesting that this termite species may originate there. C. formosanus was apparently transported to Japan by trading ships sailing from southern China to the port of Nagasaki before the 1600s (Mori, 1987). All introductions were accidental. It is unclear when C. formosanus was transported to Taiwan, the island from which this species received its name, but it was likely to be present there before the 1800s (Su, 2003a). C. formosanus was introduced to Hawaii in 1907 or earlier (Swezey, 1914) through the extensive sandal-wood trade carried out with China in the nineteenth century. During the 1950s and 1960s, it was reported from South Africa (Gay, 1967), Midway island, the Marshall islands (Clagg, 1958) and the continental USA. The sudden increase of infestation sites in the 1960s has been attributed to the active movement of military goods during and after World War II. Most of the new infestations discovered during the 1960s were associated with military bases.

The first confirmed C. formosanus infestation in the continental USA was discovered in Houston, Texas in 1965 (Beal, 1967). In 1966, C. formosanus was reported from nearby Galveston, Texas and also in New Orleans and Lake Charles, Louisiana (Spink, 1967). In 1969, the presence of C. formosanus was confirmed in Charleston, South Carolina from a specimen collected there in 1957 (Chambers et al., 1988). The discovery of C. formosanus in Florida in 1980 spawned extensive media attention, which resulted in the heightened awareness and additional finds of this termite in south-eastern USA. It was reported from Orlando, Florida in 1983; Gulfbreeze, Florida; Mobile, Alabama; Meridian, Mississippi; and Memphis, Tennessee in 1984, and Biloxi, Mississippi in 1985 (Su and Scheffrahn, 1986). Since the mid-1980s, more infestations have been reported from urban areas of these south-eastern states. In 1992, isolated infestations were found in Wilmington, North Carolina (Su, 2003a) and in San Diego, California (Atkinson et al., 1993). Well-established infestations of C. formosanus were confirmed in the metropolitan areas of Atlanta, Georgia in 1993 (Forschler et al., 2001). Many infestations in Atlanta were believed to be associated with railroad ties (railway sleepers) used as landscape timbers.

However, the rapid increase in C. formosanus localities since the 1980s does not reflect the natural dispersal rate of this termite. As the public and pest control industry become more cognisant of the presence of C. formosanus, it is expected that more infestations will surface. The often-misapplied phrase 'rapid spread' should be replaced by 'previously undocumented distribution' of this termite as new locations are found.

Risk of Introduction

Top of page

Human transportation is the primary means of migration for termite pests including C. formosanus. Any sizeable material containing cellulose and sufficient moisture may sustain small colonies of C. formosanus during their journey to new areas. These may include large wooden articles used in shipping, such as crates, pallets or shipping containers, and lumbers, railroad ties (railway sleepers), wooden posts and planting containers holding soil. The alates are often found swarming out of infested boats to further infest nearby buildings (Su and Scheffrahn, 1987a; Hochmair and Scheffrahn, 2010). Shade trees in parks and urban areas show high infestation levels in Louisiana and other ports of entry, such as South Carolina.

Habitat

Top of page

As with other subterranean termites, C. formosanus feeds on dead trees and wooden debris on the soil surface of natural habitats. However, as an exotic pest it is primarily found in populated urban environments and feeds on man-made structures (Su, 2003a). The preferred temperature range is between 17 and 32°C (Ikehara, 1966). It is generally restricted to areas of high humidity, approximately 35° north and south of the equator (Su and Tamashiro, 1987). Its activity substantially declines during the winter season in temperate regions.

Hosts/Species Affected

Top of page

C. formosanus is an opportunistic feeder of any material containing cellulose. A large number of living plants are known to be attacked by C. formosanus, but it usually does not kill the plants unless the root system is significantly damaged (Lai et al., 1983; La Fage, 1987). Records show that living citrus, eucalyptus and sugar canes (Saccharum sp.) may be killed by C. formosanus, but in most cases damage occurs in the heartwood of a tree. The infested trees may be more easily blown over by high winds due to the loss of structural strength. The pest status of C. formosanus is most significant when it attacks wood products in a house such as structural lumbers, cabinets, etc. C. formosanus is also known to damage non-cellulose materials in search of food, including plastic, concrete and soft metal. Occasionally underground high-voltage power lines may be penetrated by C. formosanus, resulting in an area-wide power cut.

Host Plants and Other Plants Affected

Top of page
Plant nameFamilyContext
Acer rubrumAceraceaeHabitat/association
Chamaecyparis thyoides (Atlantic white cedar)CupressaceaeHabitat/association
Cinnamomum camphora (camphor laurel)LauraceaeHabitat/association
CitrusRutaceaeHabitat/association
EucalyptusMyrtaceaeHabitat/association
Fraxinus berlandierianaOleaceaeHabitat/association
Liquidambar styraciflua (Sweet gum)HamamelidaceaeHabitat/association
Picea engelmannii (Engelmann spruce)PinaceaeUnknown
Pinus (pines)PinaceaeHabitat/association
Quercus (oaks)FagaceaeHabitat/association
Saccharum officinarum (sugarcane)PoaceaeOther
Taxodium distichum (bald cypress)TaxodiaceaeUnknown

Growth Stages

Top of page Post-harvest

Symptoms

Top of page

Large colonies of C. formosanus generally live underground. When these termites invade a house aboveground, the foraging tubes of approximately 0.5-1 cm in diameter may be found connecting the soil and the infested house. In severe infestations, C. formosanus hollows out the wood leaving a paper-thin surface and the hollowed wood surface may look blistered or peeled. Another characteristic of C. formosanus is carton nest material that is made from termite faeces, chewed wood and soil. The honeycomb-like carton nests can be as large as 1-1.5 m in diameter and are usually found in structure-voids such as between walls and beneath sinks.

List of Symptoms/Signs

Top of page

Fruit

  • internal feeding

Roots

  • external feeding
  • internal feeding

Stems

  • internal feeding
  • wilt

Whole plant

  • internal feeding
  • plant dead; dieback
  • wilt

Biology and Ecology

Top of page

Genetics

The haploid chromosome number in C. formosanus is n=21 without the presence of multivalent chromosomes (Wang and Grace, 1999). Genetic marker studies showed that individuals of the same colony shared a close genetic affinity that is distinguishable from those of other colonies (Husseneder and Grace, 2001), and that the majority (90%) of C. formosanus colonies are simple (Mendelian) and were headed by closely related reproductives (Vargo et al., 2003).

Physiology and Phenology

As it is a social insect, the nestmates of a C. formosanus colony behave co-operatively as one entity. Outside its native China, C. formosanus often forms large colonies that may contain several million termites and forage up to 100 m in the soil, mostly in urban areas (Su and Scheffrahn, 1988). Because of its population size and foraging range, the presence of C. formosanus colonies in highly populated areas poses serious threats to nearby structures. Despite being subterranean, C. formosanus is known to form aerial colonies that have no connection to the ground. The aerial colonies, which acquire moisture mostly from rainwater or air conditioning units typically placed on top of high-rise flat roofs, accounted for approximately 25% of structural infestations by C. formosanus in urban, south-eastern Florida (Su and Scheffrahn, 1987a).

Reproductive Biology

A single colony of C. formosanus may produce 70,000 alates (Su and Scheffrahn, 1987b). Swarming occurred at dusk between April and June on a humid and windless night (Leong et al., 1983). After a brief flight, the alates shed their wings and the females immediately search for nesting sites, with the males following closely behind. When the pair finds a moist crevice with wooden materials, they form the royal chamber. After a preoviposition period of 5 to 30 days (depending on temperature), the mated pair lay approximately 15-30 eggs (Su and Tamashiro, 1987). The incubation period ranges from 3 to 6 weeks. The reproductives nurse the first group of young termites (called larvae) until they reach third-instar. One to two months later, the queen lays the second batch of eggs, which are eventually nursed by the termites from the first egg batch. It may take 3 to 5 years before a colony reaches a substantial number to cause severe damage and produce alates. The larvae that are older than the third-instar stage may be termed workers. The workers can differentiate into soldiers or nymphs, which then moult into pseudergates.

Environmental Requirements

Temperature and humidity are two main limiting factors for the establishment of C. formosanus. This species is primarily found in humid areas of the subtropical and temperate regions. However, as evidence from Japan and the USA suggests, the increasing use of central heating in buildings may promote its establishment into even colder regions. California, USA is generally too dry for the survival of C. formosanus, but one isolated infestation was found in San Diego due to the regular irrigation in backyards.

Natural enemies

Top of page
Natural enemyTypeLife stagesSpecificityReferencesBiological control inBiological control on
Aphaenogaster fulva Predator
Aphaenogaster picea rudis Predator
Caloglyphus formosani Predator
Conidiobolus coronatus Pathogen
Metarhizium anisopliae Pathogen
Ochetellus glaber Predator
Pheidole dentata Predator
Pheidole megacephala Predator
Pseudomonas fluorescens Antagonist
Solenopsis invicta Predator
Tetramorium simillimum Predator

Notes on Natural Enemies

Top of page

Many small animals including ants, lizards, toads and birds are opportunistic predators of C. formosanus alates during swarming, but these predators have no impact on the large populations of subterranean colonies.

Means of Movement and Dispersal

Top of page

Natural Dispersal

The natural dispersal distance by annual flight of C. formosanus is approximately 1 km per decade (Su and Tamashiro, 1987). According to Ikehara (1966), the alates flew a horizontal distance of 460 m aided by a wind of 2.2 m/second. However, studies in Hawaii indicated that swarms rarely occur when micro environmental wind velocity exceeds 1.0 m/second (Leong et al., 1983). The alates can move longer distances when carried by moving vehicles, such as on street-cars in Honolulu (Ehrhorn, 1934).

Pathway Vectors

Top of page
VectorNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Land vehiclesWooden boats, street-cars Yes

Plant Trade

Top of page
Plant parts liable to carry the pest in trade/transportPest stagesBorne internallyBorne externallyVisibility of pest or symptoms
Stems (above ground)/Shoots/Trunks/Branches adults; larvae; nymphs Yes No Pest or symptoms usually visible to the naked eye
Wood adults; larvae; nymphs Yes No Pest or symptoms usually visible to the naked eye
Plant parts not known to carry the pest in trade/transport
Bark
Bulbs/Tubers/Corms/Rhizomes
Flowers/Inflorescences/Cones/Calyx
Fruits (inc. pods)
Growing medium accompanying plants
Leaves
Roots
Seedlings/Micropropagated plants
True seeds (inc. grain)

Wood Packaging

Top of page
Wood Packaging liable to carry the pest in trade/transportTimber typeUsed as packing
Processed or treated wood Any softwood No
Solid wood packing material with bark Pine and other softwood Yes
Solid wood packing material without bark Pine and other softwood Yes
Wood Packaging not known to carry the pest in trade/transport
Loose wood packing material

Economic Impact

Top of page

C. formosanus can cause substantial economic losses in established areas. Of the 80 serious pest termite species currently recognized, C. formosanus stands out as one the most dangerous of all subterranean termites because of its widespread distribution (Rust and Su, 2012). In New Orleans, USA the control and repair cost due to C. formosanus is estimated at US$300 million annually (Suszkiw, 1998; 2000). It is considered as the single most economically important insect pest in the state of Hawaii. As C. formosanus populations grow, the economic loss caused by this termite species in more recently established areas will approach the pest status experienced in New Orleans and Hawaii.

C. formosanus has been known to cause damage to underground electrical and phone lines by eating through PVC pipes and shorting-out electrical systems (Henderson and Dunaway, 1999). Its preference for using clay may explain why clay-laden levees in New Orleans are so heavily infested (Henderson, 2008; Cai and Henderson, 2014). C. formosanus is one of the few termite species that will regularly infest creosoted rail road ties, wooden trestles and telephone poles.

Starting in 1998, the USDA initiated an eradication program centred in the French Quarter of New Orleans (Henderson, 2001; Ring et al., 2002). Over the next 13 years over $70,000,000 of tax payers’ money was spent on studies to control this termite, with the USDA paying for termite control directly in the French Quarter itself. Although termite numbers were reduced through this effort, eradication in the French Quarter was not achieved.

Impact: Biodiversity

Top of page

C. formosanus can easily out-compete native species of subterranean termites, such as Reticulitermes spp. in North America. A mature colony of C. formosanus can have 10 times more colony members than a mature Reticulitermes spp. colony. By favouring shady sides of buildings, C. formosanus can force Reticulitermes spp. to occupy the drier, hotter sides of buildings (Fei and Henderson, 2004). It appears that C. formosanus also displaces native subterranean termites for preferred foraging sites.

C. formosanus can also impact plant biodiversity; for example, a survey in Sam Houston Jones State Park (Louisiana, USA) in 1998 found 7% of the trees heavily infested by C. formosanus (McMichael 1998; see Henderson 2001). Moreover, red maples (Acer rubrum) had an infestation level of close to 40%. Such a heavy infestation in certain tree species could cause local extinction (Henderson 2001). 

Social Impact

Top of page

Given the traditional use of wood as a building material, historic structures are particularly vulnerable to damage by C. formosanus. Financial cost alone does not account for all the losses when historic properties in the French Quarter, New Orleans (Suszkiw, 1998), or historic temples in Taiwan are damaged by C. formosanus (Su and Hsu, 2003). Termite damage to historic buildings is irreversible and can diminish the historic significance of the structure through the loss of original materials.

The cost of termite treatments is steadily increasing and some treatments have become redundant. Integrated pest management strategies, which can include baits, non-repellent termiticides and borates for wood treatment can cost the homeowner 10 times more than using any one alone.

It has long been policy in Hawaii (where C. formosanus first got a foothold in 1919) that all wood framed houses must use treated wood in construction if wood is to be used at all. Purchase of a home previously infested by Formosan subterranean termites is cause for concern and will generally require a new termite treatment be put in place as part of the sale agreement.

The massive swarms that occur in May and June can stop baseball games and other sporting events, as well as early evening outdoor activities for fear of swallowing the insects while running. Open-air restaurant owners must deal with winged termites in their customers’ food. In Mississippi, USA, if one homeowner finds a C. formosanus infestation in the county all homeowners in that county are forbidden from transferring any wooden materials out of that county.

Detection and Inspection

Top of page

Occasionally the foraging tubes may be observed on the wood surface or tree trunk. During the swarming season (April to June), elongated mud tubes that serve as flight exit slits may be seen. The damage by C. formosanus tends to occur in places with high moisture including the bathroom, kitchen sinks and leaky roofs. An acoustic emission device (AED) may be used to locate sites with feeding activity, but most AEDs have a limited detection range (Scheffrahn et al., 1993).

Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

Top of page

C. formosanus and Coptotermes gestroi [formerly Coptotermes havilandi, which has recently been designated a junior synonym of C. gestroi, Kirton and Brown (2003)] are the two most widely distributed and destructive pest subterranean termites in the world. Whereas C. formosanus is likely to be of Chinese origin, C. havilandi probably originated in South-East Asia. C. formosanus is often confused with C. havilandi and Coptotermes vastator, another subterranean termite species in the Philippines (Su and Scheffrahn, 1998a). C. gestroi and C. vastator are mostly distributed in the tropics, but as is the case in south Florida, USA the distribution for C. formosanus and C. gestroi may overlap (Su et al., 1997b).

The alates of C. gestroi and C. vastator are distinguishable from those of C. formosanus by the differential dorsal and ventral coloration. The head and abdominal dorsal tergites of the C. gestroi and C. vastator alates are dark-brown, and the ventral surfaces of their heads and abdomens are light yellowish-brown. The alates of C. formosanus are entirely light yellowish-brown. The presence of the white half-moon-shaped antennal spots in front of each ocellus is also characteristic of C. gestroi and C. vastator alates (Ahmad, 1965). The alates of C. formosanus lack such antennal spots. A consistent diagnostic characteristic that distinguishes the soldiers of C. gestroi and C. vastator from C. formosanus is the single pair of setae projecting dorso-laterally from the base of the fontanelle. The soldiers of C. formosanus have two pairs of such setae (Scheffrahn and Su, 1990).

Prevention and Control

Top of page

Phytosanitary Measures

Some quarantine regulations exist that prohibit the transportation of materials infested with termites, but the quarantine is virtually unenforceable.  There are no phytosanitary measures to prevent C. formosanus being moved with potted plants, as exists for red imported fire ants (Solenopsis invicta), despite the fact that they do infest potted plants and can easily be moved to new locations.

Cultural Control and Sanitary Methods

The combination of water and wood or other cellulose materials provides attractive conditions for C. formosanus. Leaky roofs, plumbing, irrigations, air conditioning condensate and any portion of the building that may collect excessive moisture should be corrected to maintain an environment less attractive to C. formosanus. Because C. formosanus invades a house through the soil, the use of untreated wood in contact with the soil should be avoided. Plants should not be allowed to grow up onto the house structure and mulches should not be placed up against a house where the foundation becomes hidden. Wood debris should be removed and fire wood should not be stacked against the house.

Biological Control

Laboratory studies consistently demonstrated the pathogenicity of biological agents such as the entomopathogenic nematode, Neoaplectana carpocapsae [Steinernema carpocapsae] (Fujii, 1975) or the fungi Metarhizium anisopliae and Beauveria bassiana (Lai et al., 1982). However, field trials using these biological agents have been generally unsuccessful (Lai, 1977; Mauldin and Beal, 1989). Jayasimha and Henderson (2007) found that C. formosanus carries fungi on its integument and in its gut that will kill brown rot fungi (Monilinia laxa and Monilinia fructigena). Aspergillus flavus also associated with C. formosanus has potential as a biocontrol agent. Bacteria that attack Bacillus thuringiensus are also carried on the bodies of C. formosanus, and as colony size increases the ability to attack biological control agents becomes more efficient (Wang and Henderson, 2013). Most recently, bacteria has been combined with clay (an attractant and spore stabilizer) and low concentrations of a chitin synthesis inhibitor to successfully control C. formosanus in the lab. Field trials are still needed.

Chemical Control

Chemicals used for the control of C. formosanus can be grouped into three categories: wood preservatives, liquid insecticides for soil barrier treatments and bait toxicant for population control.

Wood that is pressure-treated with preservatives (creosote and inorganic salts such as chromated copper arsenate) were required by building codes in many states for use at the point of wood-soil interface. Arsenic and creosote now have very few uses, and various formulations using copper and borates dominate the market place today. These preservatives are primarily used to prevent fungal decay, but they also prevent termite damage to the wood.

The most frequently used control measure against C. formosanus is to place a chemical barrier between the termites and the structure to be protected. Cyclodienes such as chlordane have been in widespread use but are now banned. The organophosphate chlorpyrifos, which replaced cyclodienes in the mid-1980s, was recently phased out due to human toxicity concerns. Termiticides that are currently available include permethrin, cypermethrin, bifenthrin, fenvalerate, imidachloprid, fipronil, chlortraniliprole and chlorfenapyr, which are labelled under various trade names. Pyrethroids such as permethrin, cypermethrin, bifenthrin and fenvalerate repel the termites from treatment barriers, whereas other termiticides prevent termite invasion by lethal contact. Newer termiticides (such as fipronil, imidacloprid, chlortraniliprole) are non-repellents and are transfered from termite to termite via grooming and nestmate contacts, resulting in colony collapse.

For pre-construction treatments, soil termiticides are applied onto sub-slab soil before the foundation is poured. Post-construction treatments can be carried out by drilling holes through the slabs, injecting insecticides under the foundations and by drenching the trenches dug into the soil along the building foundations.

Unlike repellent soil termiticide treatments, baits are intended to control C. formosanus populations near a structure. One such approach is the monitoring-baiting programme that incorporated a bait matrix containing the chitin synthesis inhibitor, hexaflumuron (Su, 1994). Stations containing a monitoring device are first installed in the soil surrounding a home. When the termites are found in the station, the monitoring device is replaced with a tube containing the hexaflumuron-laced bait (Su et al., 1995). The termites feeding in the stations then carry the baits to other members of the colony, leading to the demise of the entire colony population. Field trials using hexaflumuron baits repeatedly demonstrated that baited C. formosanus colonies could be eliminated from a location (Su, 2003b). When hexaflumuron went off patent (ca. 2010) this chitin synthesis inhibitor was incorporated into bait stations sold directly to homeowners at home improvement stores. Some other bait stations use noviflumuron. Although baits can be an excellent choice and are environmentally friendly, bait stations can be bypassed by foraging termites. Slow-acting and non-repellent chemicals in bait stations are needed to cause an impact on C. formosanus populations. Other chemicals that are used for termite baits include chitin synthesis inhibitors such as diflubenzuron, noviluron and lufenuron. Metabolic inhibitors such as sulfluramid and hydramethylnon are no longer being used in termite baits.

Field Monitoring

Electronic sensors are available for automated monitoring (Su, 2002), and a pop-up mechanism is used in over-the-counter bait stations to indicate possible termite presence. Although the bait label may require only yearly checks, most professionals will check stations more frequently to ensure enough bait is in place at all times.

IPM Programmes

The baiting programme employs a cyclical procedure to protect a house from invading C. formosanus in the soil. Non-toxic monitors are no longer often used before employing baits. Most baits used today incorporate the toxicant at the start of a baiting programme. After eliminating C. formosanus populations near the house, monitoring resumes using the same toxic baits. The baiting procedure forms the basis for an on-going programme to protect structures from C. formosanus infestations (Su and Scheffrahn, 1998b).

References

Top of page

Ahmad M, 1953. Two new cases of introduction of termites. Spolia Zeylan, 27:35-36.

Ahmad M, 1965. Termites (Isoptera) of Thailand. Bulletin of American Museum of Natural History, 131:1-114.

APPPC, 1987. Insect pests of economic significance affecting major crops of the countries in Asia and the Pacific region. Technical Document No. 135. Bangkok, Thailand: Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific region (RAPA).

Atkinson TH; Rust MK; Smith JL, 1993. The Formosan subterranean termite, Coptotermes formosanus Shiraki (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae) established in California. Pan-Pacific Entomologist, 69(1):111-113

Beal RH, 1967. Formosan invader. Pest Control, 35:13-17.

CABI/EPPO, 2008. Coptotermes formosanus. [Distribution map]. Distribution Maps of Plant Pests, December (1st revision). Wallingford, UK: CABI, Map 710.

Chambers DM; Zungoli PA; Hill HS Jr, 1988. Distribution and habitats of the Formosan subterranean termite (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae) in South Carolina. Journal of Economic Entomology, 81(6):1611-1619

Chhotani OB, 1985. Distribution and zoogeography of the oriental termites of families Termopsidae, Hodotermitidae, Stylotermitidae and Rhinotermitidae. Zeitschrift fur Angewandte Entomologie, 100(1):88-95

Clagg CF, 1958. Termites from western Pacific islands. Proceedings of the Hawaiian Entomological Society, 16:338-339.

Coaton WGH, 1950. Infestation of buildings in South Africa by subterranean wood-destroying termites. Bulletin of the Department of Agriculture and Forestry, South Africa, 299:1-89.

Ehrhorn EM, 1934. The termites of Hawaii, their economic significance and control, and the distribution of termites by commerce. In: Kofoid CA, ed. Termites and termite control. Berkeley, California, USA: University of California Press, 321-333.

Fei HX; Henderson G, 2004. Effects of temperature, directional aspects, light conditions, and termite species on subterranean termite activity (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae). Environmental Entomology, 33(2):242-248.

Forschler BT; Harron J; Jenkins TM, 2001. Case histories involving the Formosan subterranean termite in Atlanta, Georgia USA. Sociobiology, 37:311-322.

Fujii JK, 1976. Effects of an entomogenous nematode, Neoaplectana carpocapsae Weiser, on the Formosan subterranean termite, Coptotermes formosanus Shiraki, with ecological and biological studies on C. formosanus. Dissertation Abstracts International, 37B(1):62

Gay FJ, 1967. A world review of introduced species of termites. Bulletin No. 286. Melbourne, Australia: CSIRO, 88.

Haagsma KA; Rust MK, 1995. Colony size estimates, foraging trends, and physiological characteristics of the Western subterranean termite (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae). Environmental Entomology, 24(6):1520-1528.

Henderson G, 2001. Practical considerations of the Formosan subterranean termite in Louisiana: A 50-year-old problem. Sociobiology, 37:281-292.

Henderson G, 2008. The termite menace in New Orleans: Did they cause the floodwalls to tumble? American Entomologist, 54:156-162.

Henderson G; Dunnaway C, 1999. Keeping Formosan termites away from underground telephone lines. Louisiana Agriculture, 42:4-7.

Hochmair HH; Scheffrahn RH, 2010. Spatial association of marine dockage with land-borne infestations of invasive termites (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae: Coptotermes) in urban South Florida. Journal of Economic Entomology, 103(4):1338-1346. http://esa.publisher.ingentaconnect.com/content/esa/jee/2010/00000103/00000004/art00039

Hromada CJ, 1970. Formosan termites on Guam. A massive control job for Terminix. Pest Control, 38:10-25.

Huang FS; Li GX; Zhu SM, 1989. The taxonomy and biology of Chinese termites (Isoptera). Guangzhou, China; Tianze Press, 605 pp.

Husseneder C; Grace JK, 2001. Similarity is relative: hierarchy of genetic similarities in the Formosan subterranean termite (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae) in Hawaii. Environmental Entomology, 30:262-266.

Ikehara S, 1966. Distribution of termites in the Ryukyu archipelago. Bulletin of the Arts Science Division, Univeristy of Ryukyu.

Jayasimha P; Henderson G, 2007. Effect of Aspergillus flavius and Trichoderma harzianum on survival of Coptotermes formosanus (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae). Sociobiology, 49:135-141.

King EG; Spink WT, 1969. Foraging galleries of the Formosan termite, Coptotermes formosanus, in Louisiana. Annals of the Entomological Society of America, 62:537-542.

Kirton LG; Brown VK, 2003. The taxonomic status of pest species of Coptotermes in Southeast Asia: Resolving the paradox in the pest status of termites, Coptotermes gestroi, C. havilandi and C. travians (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae). Sociobiology, 42:43-63.

Kistner DH, 1985. A new genus and species of termitophilous Aleaocharinae from mainland China associated with Coptotermes formosanus and its zoogeographic significance (Coleoptera: Staphylinidae). Sociobiology, 10:93-104.

Koehler PG, 1980. The Formosan subterranean termite. Florida Cooperative Extension Service Circulation, ENT-51.

La Fage J, 1987. Practical considerations of the Formosan subterranean termite in Louisiana: a 30-year-old problem. In: Tamashiro M, Su NY, eds. Biology and control of the Formosan subterranean termite. Honolulu, USA: College of Tropical Agriculture Human Resources, University of Hawaii, 37-42.

Lai PY, 1977. Biology and ecology of the Formosan subterranean termite, Coptotermes formosanus, and its susceptibility to the entomogenous fungi, Beauveria bassiana and Metarrhizium anisopliae. PhD dissertation, Honolulu, Hawaii USA: University of Hawaii.

Lai PY; Tamashiro M; Fujii JK, 1982. Pathogenicity of six strains of entomogenous fungi to Coptotermes formosanus. Journal of Invertebrate Pathology, 39(1):1-5

Lai PY; Tamashiro M; Yates JR; Su NY; Fujii JK; Ebesu RH, 1983. Living plants in Hawaii attacked by Coptotermes formosanus. Proceedings of the Hawaiian Entomological Society, 24(2/3):283-286

Leong KLH; Tamashiro M; Yates J; Su NY, 1983. Microenvironmental factors regulating the flight of Coptotermes formosanus Shiraki in Hawaii (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae). Proceedings of the Hawaiian Entomological Society, 24(2/3):287-291

Mauldin JK; Beal RH, 1989. Entomogenous nematodes for control of subterranean termites, Reticulitermes spp. (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae). Journal of Economic Entomology, 82(6):1638-1642

McMichael JA, 1998. MS Thesis. Louisiana State University, Louisiana, USA: Department of Entomology, 85 pp.

Mori H, 1987. The Formosan subterranean termite in Japan: its distribution, damage, and current and potential control measures. Research Extension Series, Hawaii Institute of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, No. 083:23-26

Oshima M, 1910. On Formosan termites. Dobutsugaku Zasshi, 22:343-346, 376-382, 411-413.

Oshima M, 1914. Notes on a collection of termites from the East Indian Archipelago. Annot. Zool. Japan, 8:553-585.

Ring DR; Henderson G; McCown CR, 2002. Evaluation of the Louisiana State program to treat trees infested with Formosan subterranean termites (Isoptera: Rhinotermidae). In: Proceedings of the 4th International Conference on Urban Pests, Charleston, South Carolina [ed. by Jones, S. C. \Zhai, J. \Robinson, W. H.]. 259-266.

Scheffrahn RH; Robbins WP; Busey P; Su NY; Mueller RK, 1993. Evaluation of a novel, hand-held, acoustic emissions detector to monitor termites (Isoptera: Kalotermitidae, Rhinotermitidae) in wood. Journal of Economic Entomology, 86(6):1720-1729

Scheffrahn RH; Su NY, 1990. Native, introduced, and structure-infesting termites of the Turks and Caicos Islands, B.W.I. (Isoptera: Kalotermitidae, Rhinotermitidae, Termitidae). Florida Entomologist, 73: 622-627.

Shiraki T, 1909. On the Japanese termites. Transcripts of Entomology, Japan, 2:229-242.

Spink WT, 1967. The Formosan subterranean termite in Louisiana. Louisiana Agricultural Experimental Station Circ. Baton Rouge, Louisiana USA: Louisiana State University, 89.

Su NanYao; Ban PM; Scheffrahn RH, 1997. Remedial baiting with hexaflumuron in above-ground stations to control structure-infesting populations of the Formosan subterranean termite (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae). Journal of Economic Entomology, 90(3):809-817; 10 ref.

Su NanYao; Scheffrahn RH, 1998. A review of subterranean termite control practices and prospects for integrated pest management programmes. Integrated Pest Management Reviews, 3(1):1-13; 50 ref.

Su NanYao; Scheffrahn RH; Weissling T, 1997. A new introduction of a subterranean termite, Coptotermes havilandi Holmgren (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae) in Miami, Florida. Florida Entomologist, 80(3):408-411; 12 ref.

Su NY, 1994. Field evaluation of a hexaflumuron bait for population suppression of subterranean termites (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae). Journal of Economic Entomology, 87(2):389-397

Su NY, 2002. Dimensionally stable sensors for a continuous monitoring program to detect subterranean termite (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae) activity. Journal of Economic Entomology, 95(5):975-980; 8 ref.

Su NY, 2003. Baits as a tool for population control of the Formosan subterranean termite. Sociobiology, 41:177-192.

Su NY, 2003. Overview of the global distribution and control of the Formosan subterranean termite. Sociobiology, 41:7-16.

Su NY; Hsu EL, 2003. Managing subterranean termite populations for protection of the historic Tzu-Su Temple of San-Shia, Taiwan. Sociobiology, 41:529-545.

Su NY; Scheffrahn RH, 1986. Formosan subterranean termite (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae), in the United State: 1907-1985. In: Zungoli PA, ed. Proceedings of the National Conference of Urban Entomolology, College Park, Maryland, USA: University of Maryland, 31-38.

Su NY; Scheffrahn RH, 1987. Alate production of a field colony of the Formosan subterranean termite (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae). Sociobiology, 13(2):167-172

Su NY; Scheffrahn RH, 1987. Current status of the Formosan subterranean termite in Florida. Research Extension Series, Hawaii Institute of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, No. 083:27-31

Su NY; Scheffrahn RH, 1988. Foraging population and territory of the Formosan subterranean termite (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae) in an urban environment. Sociobiology, 14:353-359.

Su NY; Scheffrahn RH, 1998. Coptotermes vastator Light (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae) in Guam. Proceedings of the Hawaiian Entomological Society, 33:13-18.

Su NY; Tamashiro M, 1987. An overview of the Formosan subterranean termite in the world. In: Tamashiro M, Su NY, eds. Biology and control of the Formosan subterranean termite. Honolulu, USA: College of Tropical Agriculture Human Resources, University of Hawaii, 3-15.

Su NY; Thoms EM; Ban PM; Scheffrahn RH, 1995. A monitoring/baiting station to detect and eliminate foraging populations of subterranean termites (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae) near structures. Journal of Economic Entomology, 88:932-936.

Suszkiw J, 1998. The Formosan termite: A formidable foe. Agricultural Research, 46:4-9.

Suszkiw J, 2000. Taking aim at Formosal subterranean termites. Agricultural Research, 48:12-15.

Swezey OH, 1914. Notes and exhibitions. Proceedings of the Hawaiian Entomological Society, 3:27.

Vargo EL; Husseneder C; Grace JK, 2003. Colony and population genetic structure of the Formosan subterranean termite, Coptotermes formosanus, in Japan. Molecular Ecology, 12:2599-2608.

Wang C; Henderson G, 2014. Clay preference and particle transport behaviour of Formosan subterranean termites (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae): A laboratory study. Insect Science:1-11.

Wang Cai; Henderson G, 2013. Evidence of Formosan subterranean termite group size and associated bacteria in the suppression of entomopathogenic bacteria, Bacillus thuringiensis subspecies israelensis and thuringiensis. Annals of the Entomological Society of America, 106(4):454-462. http://esa.publisher.ingentaconnect.com/content/esa/aesa/2013/00000106/00000004/art00008

Wang JiaSi; Grace JK, 1999. Chromosome number in Coptotermes formosanus (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae). Sociobiology, 33(3):289-294; 19 ref.

Contributors

Top of page

08/08/14: text updated by:

Gregg Henderson, Louisiana State University, USA

Distribution Maps

Top of page
You can pan and zoom the map
Save map