Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide


Coptotermes gestroi
(Asian subterranean termite)



Coptotermes gestroi (Asian subterranean termite)


  • Last modified
  • 13 January 2021
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Pest
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Coptotermes gestroi
  • Preferred Common Name
  • Asian subterranean termite
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Metazoa
  •     Phylum: Arthropoda
  •       Subphylum: Uniramia
  •         Class: Insecta
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • Coptotermes gestroi is a very damaging termite, native to Southeast Asia, which has been introduced to China, the Americas, Italy and some Pacific islands. It is a threat to wooden structures wherever it occurs, and will also eat cardboar...

  • Principal Source
  • Draft datasheet under review

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Coptotermes gestroi (Asian subterranean termite); soldier, dorsal view. Note scale.
CaptionCoptotermes gestroi (Asian subterranean termite); soldier, dorsal view. Note scale.
Copyright©PaDIL/Simon Hinkley & Ken Walker/Museum Victoria - CC BY 3.0 AU
Coptotermes gestroi (Asian subterranean termite); soldier, dorsal view. Note scale.
SoldierCoptotermes gestroi (Asian subterranean termite); soldier, dorsal view. Note scale.©PaDIL/Simon Hinkley & Ken Walker/Museum Victoria - CC BY 3.0 AU
Coptotermes gestroi (Asian subterranean termite); Soldier, lateral view. January 2013.
CaptionCoptotermes gestroi (Asian subterranean termite); Soldier, lateral view. January 2013.
Copyright©Pest and Diseases Image Library , - CC BY-NC 3.0
Coptotermes gestroi (Asian subterranean termite); Soldier, lateral view. January 2013.
SoldierCoptotermes gestroi (Asian subterranean termite); Soldier, lateral view. January 2013.©Pest and Diseases Image Library , - CC BY-NC 3.0
Coptotermes gestroi (Asian subterranean termite); Soldier head. January 2013.
TitleSoldier head
CaptionCoptotermes gestroi (Asian subterranean termite); Soldier head. January 2013.
Copyright©Pest and Diseases Image Library , - CC BY-NC 3.0
Coptotermes gestroi (Asian subterranean termite); Soldier head. January 2013.
Soldier headCoptotermes gestroi (Asian subterranean termite); Soldier head. January 2013.©Pest and Diseases Image Library , - CC BY-NC 3.0


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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Coptotermes gestroi Wasmann, 1896

Preferred Common Name

  • Asian subterranean termite

Other Scientific Names

  • Coptotermes havilandi Kirton and Brown, 2003
  • Coptotermes heimi (Wasmann)
  • Coptotermes javanicus Kemner
  • Coptotermes obliquus Xia and He
  • Coptotermes pacificus Light
  • Coptotermes parvulus Holmgren
  • Coptotermes vastator Light, 1929
  • Coptotermes yaxianensis Light

International Common Names

  • English: Philippine milk termite

Summary of Invasiveness

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Coptotermes gestroi is a very damaging termite, native to Southeast Asia, which has been introduced to China, the Americas, Italy and some Pacific islands. It is a threat to wooden structures wherever it occurs, and will also eat cardboard, paper and fabric. It feeds voraciously on any material that contains cellulose and will drill holes in other material such as rubber, plastic and styrofoam to reach food. Living trees can be weakened by C. gestroi consuming the heartwood, to the point where they can be brought down in a storm. It can eat structural timbers from the inside out, leaving a thin film of blistered surface wood. It is the most common termite species in built up areas in Singapore and Malaysia, and is responsible for 80% to 90% of the damage caused to man-made structures.

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Metazoa
  •         Phylum: Arthropoda
  •             Subphylum: Uniramia
  •                 Class: Insecta
  •                     Order: Isoptera
  •                         Family: Rhinotermitidae
  •                             Genus: Coptotermes
  •                                 Species: Coptotermes gestroi

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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Of the 12 families within Isoptera, C. gestroi belongs to Rhinotermitidae, which are considered the most derived of the lower termites (Vargo and Husseneder, 2009; Krishna et al., 2013). Several authors have attempted to build phylogenetic schemes for the most widely accepted families and some have shown that Rhinotermitidae is possibly paraphyletic with members in Termitidae (Lo et al., 2004; Legendre et al., 2008). The genus Coptotermes is one of the largest within the Rhinotermitidae. Coptotermes is regarded as a transitional taxon between lower termites (with hindgut protozoa) and higher termites (without hindgut protozoa) (Vargo and Husseneder, 2009).

Coptotermes gestroi was first described by Wasmann (1896) using a soldier termite. In 1911, Nils Holmgren described C. havilandi from an alate form of the same species. The difficulty of matching the two castes, together with various reports on slight morphological differences over time led to the establishment of two supposedly different species. Kirton and Brown (2003) have since synonymized C. gestroi and C. havilandi, with the latter being assigned the junior synonym. Recently, C. vastator was also assigned as a junior synonym of C. gestroi after DNA sequence comparison of mitochondrial genes revealed their synonymity (Yeap et al., 2007).

In Asia, C. gestroi is known as the Philippine milk termite, although Kirton and Brown (2003) gave it the name ‘Asian subterranean termite’.

Along with the creation of junior synonyms for C. gestroi, such as C. heimi (Wasmann) (Yeap et al., 2010), misidentification and confusion with other valid Coptotermes species has also commonly occurred. In parts of Southeast Asia, C. gestroi was sometimes misidentified as C. travians (Haviland), while the true C. travians was also wrongly identified as C. havilandi in Peninsular Malaysia (Kirton and Brown, 2003). In the Pacific, C. gestroi was wrongly identified as C. formosanus Shiraki in Guam (Su, 1994; Su and Scheffrahn, 1998).


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The following description is taken from Biota Taiwanica (2014):

Like other species of termite, a C. gestroi colony contains three primary castes: the workers, soldiers and reproductives.

Soldier: Head reddish yellow; labrum light brownish yellow; mandibles reddish brown; antennae light brown; pronotum light brownish yellow, lighter than head; legs and abdomen pale. Head with a few scattered bristles; tip of labrum with two bristles; postmentum with a pair of bristles at anterior margin, followed by another pair; pronotum sparsely hairy, with a few short and long bristles peripherally; fontanelle with one bristle on each side; no bristles between fontanelle and antennal socket. Head elongately oval, distinctly longer than broad; widest in middle. Fontanelle broadly oval; approaching circular shape. Labrum narrowly pointed, longer than broad; tip hyaline, narrow, short. Mandibles moderately curved apically. Postmentum long, 2.5 times as long as broad at widest point, 1.5 times as broad anteriorly as posteriorly; waist midway between posterior margin and widest point. Antennae with 14~15 segments, second longer than third and fourth subequal. Some specimens with third segment shortest, half as long as the fourth segment. Pronotum slightly more than twice as broad as long; anterior margin distinctly emarginated; posterior margin depressed in middle; lateral margins broadly rounded.

Worker: Head yellow-white to yellow; antennae, pronotum, legs and abdominal tergites pale yellow. Head circular, oval, parallel-sided, round behind, setae numerous but not dense, randomly scattered; epicranial suture absent. Compound eyes and ocelli absent. Postclypeus with posterior margin markedly bowed, distinct with suture, clearly inflated; labrum profile weakly curved, somewhat inflated in middle, margin sclerotization shaded. Antennae with 14 segments. Pronotum in side view shallowly convex but with front margin raised in a rim. Tarsal arolium absent. Abdominal cerci with two segments, outer more than twice length of inner, abdominal styli present on 9th sternite, smaller than cerci. Left mandible, apical tooth clearly much longer and more prominent than 1st marginal, 1st marginal tooth approximately equilateral; 2nd marginal tooth fully developed and distinct from 1st and 3rd, both edges longer than those of 1st; 3rd marginal fully developed, hind edges separated from molar prominence by a distinct gap; 4th marginal tooth in front view clearly visible in gap between 3rd marginal and molar prominence, proximal end hidden behind molar prominence; molar prominence broadly rounded in outline, proximal marginal weakly indented. Right mandible, 1st marginal tooth with anterior edges bearing a small subsidiary tooth at base; 2nd marginal tooth fully developed and separate from 1st, exposed posterior edge longer than that of 1st, more or less straight; notch at proximal end of right molar plate absent, molar ridges prominent.


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Coptotermes gestroi is endemic to Southeast Asia, from Assam through Burma and Thailand to Malaysia and the Indonesian archipelago (Kirton and Brown, 2003). Over the past century, human activity has spread this termite far beyond its native range. It is now found in Marquesas Island, Mauritius, Micronesia, Barbados, Lesser Antilles, Greater Antilles, Reunion Island, Hawaii, Florida (USA), Mexico, Taiwan and Fiji (Evans et al., 2013).

In the Caribbean, C. gestroi has invaded some natural woodland habitats. Recent collections from Caribbean islands include Antigua, Barbuda, Barbados, Cuba, Grand Cayman, Grand Turk, Jamaica (Montego Bay and Port Antonio), Little Cayman, Montserrat, Nevis, Providenciales, Puerto Rico (San Juan), St. Kitts and on a boat from the US Virgin Islands. It has also been collected in southern Mexico.

Distribution Table

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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.

Last updated: 17 Dec 2021
Continent/Country/Region Distribution Last Reported Origin First Reported Invasive Reference Notes




-YunnanPresent, Few occurrencesIntroducedInvasiveDehong Dai Jingpo
-Peninsular MalaysiaPresentNativeInvasive


ItalyPresent, Few occurrencesIntroduced2011Invasive

North America

Antigua and BarbudaPresentIntroducedInvasive
British Virgin IslandsPresentIntroducedInvasiveVirgin Gorda
Cayman IslandsPresentIntroducedInvasiveGrand Cayman and Little Cayman
Puerto RicoPresentIntroducedInvasive
Saint Kitts and NevisPresentIntroducedInvasive
Turks and Caicos IslandsPresentIntroducedInvasiveGrand Turk and Providenciales
United StatesPresentIntroducedInvasive


Federated States of MicronesiaPresentIntroducedInvasive
French PolynesiaPresentIntroducedInvasive
-Marquesas IslandsPresentIntroduced1932Invasive
Marshall IslandsPresentIntroducedInvasive
United States Minor Outlying Islands
-Midway IslandsPresentIntroducedInvasive

South America

-Mato Grosso do SulPresentIntroducedInvasive
-Minas GeraisPresentIntroducedInvasive
-Rio de JaneiroPresentIntroducedInvasive
-Rio Grande do SulPresentIntroducedInvasive
-Santa CatarinaPresentIntroducedInvasive
-Sao PauloPresentIntroducedInvasive

History of Introduction and Spread

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Coptotermes gestroi has been introduced through human transport to as far as the American continents (Kirton and Brown, 2003). The first report of the species in the New World tropics came from Brazil before 1923 (Scheffrahn and Su, 2000; Evans et al., 2013).

The spread of C. gestroi was reported from Marquesas Island (before 1932), Mauritius (1936), Barbados (1937), the Lesser Antilles (1937), Reunion Island (1957), Hawaii (1963 then not seen until 1999), Florida (1996), Mexico (2000), Taiwan (2001) and Fiji (before 2009; confirmed in rural and suburban areas as C. gestroi in 2010) (Evans et al., 2013).

Occurrence of this species is also known from Micronesia, the Greater Antilles, the Caribbean Islands and Polynesia (Evans et al., 2013). The first report of C. gestroi in Europe came in 2011, when a yacht in Italy, which had previously visited Panama, Bahamas, Barbados and Jamaica, was found to be infested (Ghesini et al., 2011).


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Introduced toIntroduced fromYearReasonIntroduced byEstablished in wild throughReferencesNotes
Natural reproductionContinuous restocking
Florida Brazil 1996 Yes No Su et al. (1997)
Hawaii Philippines 1918 Crop production (pathway cause) Yes No Woodrow et al. (2001); Ehrhorn (1934)
Brazil Asia 1936 Yes No Araujo (1970)
Caribbean Asia 1939 Yes No Tucker (1939); Snyder (1956)
Marquesas Asia 1932 Yes No Light (1932)
Mauritius Philippines 1936 Yes No Moutia (1936)
Réunion Philippines 1956 Yes No Paulian (1957)
Madagascar Asia 1986 Yes No Edwards and Mill (1986)

Risk of Introduction

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Human transportation is the primary means of migration for termite pests and shipboard infestations are the most likely means of human dispersal of C. gestroi. All substantial objects containing cellulose and adequate moisture may maintain small colonies of C. gestroi during their journey to new areas. These may include large wooden articles used in shipping, such as crates, pallets or shipping containers, lumbers, railway sleepers, wooden posts and planting containers holding soil. Alates are often found swarming out of infested boats (Su and Scheffrahn, 1987).

Coptotermes gestroi is primarily found in humid areas of the subtropical and tropical regions. However, the increasing use of central heating in buildings may promote its establishment into even colder regions.


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Coptotermes gestroi is primarily found in humid areas of the subtropical and tropical regions (of up to 26° N). C. gestroi needs moist wood/soil substrate for successful colonization and succumbs quickly to desiccation.

In its natural habitat C. gestroi feeds on dead trees and wooden debris on the soil surface. However, as an exotic pest it is primarily found in populated urban environments, where it feeds on man-made structures (Su et al., 2003). They live underground and enter buildings through cracks, expansion joints and utility conduits. They sometimes form foraging tubes along the surface of the ground and the outside surfaces of structures.

Habitat List

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Terrestrial ManagedManaged forests, plantations and orchards Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial ManagedUrban / peri-urban areas Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial ManagedBuildings Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial Natural / Semi-naturalNatural forests Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)

Hosts/Species Affected

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Like most termite species, C. gestroi is an opportunistic feeder, consuming any material that contains cellulose. A large number of living plants are known to be attacked by C. gestroi, but it usually does not kill the plants unless the root system is significantly damaged (Fage, 1987). Pines (Pinus) and Brazil nut (Bertholletia excelsa) are susceptible to C. gestroi attack, but cabbage angelin (Andira inermis), massaranduba (Manilkara bidentata) and pink ipê (Handroanthus impetiginosus) are more resistant.

Host Plants and Other Plants Affected

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Plant nameFamilyContextReferences
Andira inermisFabaceaeHabitat/association
Bertholletia excelsa (Brazil nut)LecythidaceaeHabitat/association
Handroanthus impetiginosusBignoniaceaeHabitat/association
Manilkara bidentata (balata)SapotaceaeHabitat/association
Pinus sp. (pine)PinaceaeHabitat/association


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Dispersal flights, foraging tubes or damage are usually the first indications of an infestation. Advanced stages of infestation are indicated by the incorporation of nest material (‘carton’, a mixture of faeces, chewed wood and soil) in hollowed wood or existing structural voids. In severe infestations, C. gestroi hollows out wood, leaving only a paper-thin surface. The hollowed wood surface may look blistered or peeled.

List of Symptoms/Signs

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SignLife StagesType
Whole plant / plant dead; dieback

Biology and Ecology

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Analysis of population structure in C. gestroi by Yeap et al. (2011) found moderate genetic differentiation, positively correlated with geographic distance, indicating a limited amount of gene flow between populations. Isolation-by-distance and low levels of diversity were observed in introduced populations, suggesting limited dispersal in these populations, which are probably only connected by occasional transfer of infected material by humans.

Reproductive biology

After swarming and landing on the ground, the alates shed their wings and search for a mate. Once a mate is found, the male and female search for a crevice in damp ground or wood, hollow out a small chamber and crawl inside.

The pair, now known as a king and queen, mate and within a few days the queen starts laying eggs, approximately 15-30. Within 2 to 4 weeks, young termites hatch from the eggs and are fed by the king and queen. The first instar larvae may develop into either workers or nymphs after their second moult (Albino and Costa-Leonardo, 2011). Nymphs can develop into alates after going through six instars (Albino and Costa-Leonardo, 2011), or into brachypterous neotenies that do not disperse but reproduce within the same colony (Vargo and Husseneder, 2009). Workers may develop into apterous neotenies, remain as workers, or develop onto pre-soldiers that will ultimately form soldiers (Vargo and Husseneder, 2009). Neotenic reproductives are capable of replacing or supplementing primary reproduction (Myles, 1999). By providing an alternative to dispersal by alate flight, neotenics enable the social organization to be maintained following the death of the primary reproductive. They also regulate population size over time (Lenz et al., 1986; Myles, 1999).

One to 2 months later, the queen lays the second batch of eggs, which will be eventually nursed by termites from the first egg batch. It may take 3 to 5 years before a colony reaches numbers substantial enough to cause severe damage and produce alates.

Activity patterns

Coptotermes gestroi dispersal flights or ‘swarms’, in which large numbers of alates leave the colony, occur at dusk or at night.

Population size and density

Sornnuwat(1996) determined that the foraging population of an average colony in Thailand was 1.13 to 2.75 million individuals.


Coptotermes gestroi feeds on a wide range of cellulose-containing materials and will create holes in such materials as rubber, plastic and styrofoam in its search for food. It also attacks living trees by consuming the heartwood.

Environmental requirements

Temperature and humidity are the two main limiting factors for the establishment of C. gestroi. This species is primarily found in humid areas of the subtropical and tropical regions. However, the increasing use of central heating in buildings may allow it to survive in colder regions.

Notes on Natural Enemies

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

Means of Movement and Dispersal

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Shipboard infestations are the most likely means of human dispersal of C. gestroi as the result of dispersal flights from onboard reaching land. Marine vessels have been implicated in the anthropogenic dispersal of invasive termites for the past 500 years (Hochmair and Scheffrahn, 2010). It has been suspected that C. formosanus and C. gestroi were introduced to and dispersed throughout South Florida by sailboats and yachts.

Pathway Causes

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CauseNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
AidIf aid is packed in wooded boxes C. gestroi can be present in the wood Yes Scheffrahn and Su (2000)
Animal productionConstruction wood acts as habitat and food for the termites Yes Scheffrahn and Su (2000)
Breeding and propagationIf wooden structures are used for storage and transportation Yes Yes
Cut flower tradeIf wooden structures are used for storage and transportation
FoodIf wooden structures are used for storage and transportation Yes Yes
ForestryForests act as habitats for C. gestroi Yes Yes
Habitat restoration and improvementMay be present in tree bark or any wood used in reafforestation programmes Yes Yes
HitchhikerHitchhike on any wooden structure e.g. storage boxes Yes Yes
Interbasin transfersOn boats or ship Yes Yes
Interconnected waterwaysOn boats or ship Yes Yes
Landscape improvementMay be present in any wooden structures used to transport seedling Yes Yes
Live food or feed tradeMay be present in any wooden structures used to transport seedling Yes Yes
Off-site preservation May be present in any wooden structures used for transportation Yes Yes
People sharing resourcesMay be present in any wooden structures used for transportation Yes Yes
Pet tradeMay be present in any wooden structures used for transportation Yes Yes
Seed tradeMay be present in any wooden structures used for transportation Yes Yes
Self-propelledCoptotermes gestroi can move in search for food and habitat. They also swarm long distances Yes Sornnuwat (1996)
SmugglingMay be present in any wooden structures used for transportation Yes Yes
Timber tradeMay be found on the timber or wood bark Yes Yes Sornnuwat (1996)

Pathway Vectors

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VectorNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
AircraftAlates, larvae or nymphs in woodens storage boxes Yes Yes Scheffrahn and Su (2000)
Bulk freight or cargoAlates, larvae or nymphs in woodens storage boxesScheffrahn and Su (2000)
Containers and packaging - woodAlates, larvae or nymphs Yes Yes Scheffrahn and Su (2000)
Floating vegetation and debrisIf wooden Yes Yes Scheffrahn and Su (2000)
Machinery and equipmentWith wooden parts Yes Yes Scheffrahn and Su (2000)
Mulch, straw, baskets and sodAlates, larvae or nymphs use these as food and habitat Yes Scheffrahn and Su (2000)
Plants or parts of plantsOn tree bark Yes Yes Scheffrahn and Su (2000)
Ship structures above the water lineAlates Yes Yes Scheffrahn and Su (2000)
Ship hull foulingAlates Yes Yes
Soil, sand and gravelAlates, larvae or nymphs in moist soil Yes Yes Hapukotuwa and Kenneth (2012)
Land vehiclesAlates, larvae or nymphs in wood and wooden structure transported in vehicles Yes Yes Scheffrahn and Su (2000)
WaterAlates, larvae or nymphs in wood and wooden structure Yes Yes Scheffrahn and Su (2000)

Plant Trade

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Plant parts liable to carry the pest in trade/transportPest stagesBorne internallyBorne externallyVisibility of pest or symptoms
Bark arthropods/adults; arthropods/larvae; arthropods/nymphs Yes Yes Pest or symptoms usually visible to the naked eye
Stems (above ground)/Shoots/Trunks/Branches arthropods/adults; arthropods/larvae; arthropods/nymphs Yes Yes Pest or symptoms usually visible to the naked eye

Wood Packaging

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Wood Packaging liable to carry the pest in trade/transportTimber typeUsed as packing
Processed or treated wood Yes
Solid wood packing material with bark Yes
Solid wood packing material without bark Yes

Impact Summary

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Cultural/amenity Negative
Economic/livelihood Negative
Environment (generally) Positive and negative

Economic Impact

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In terms of economic impact, termites of the genus Coptotermes are considered the most widespread and important (Gay, 1969; Su and Scheffrahn, 1990). Of the common genera of termites in Singapore, Coptotermes accounted for about 85% of all infestations, with C. gestroi being the most common species in buildings, structures and live trees (Kirton and Brown, 2003).

Environmental Impact

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In the Caribbean, C. gestroi has invaded some natural woodland habitats, infesting both natural and planted forests.

Social Impact

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Given the traditional use of wood as a building material, historic structures are particularly vulnerable to damage by C. gestroi. Financial cost alone does not account for all the losses when valuable properties such as shops and churches are destroyed (colonies of C. gestroi have been found infesting shops and churches in Miami, Florida) (Su et al., 1997).

In 1999, a colony of C. gestroi was discovered infesting a waterfront house in Key West, Florida. Destruction of such a place, or of historic temples in Taiwan, is irreversible and can diminish the historic significance of the structure through the loss of original materials.

In Florida, C. gestroi has been collected from structures and ornamental trees near structures, damaging the aesthetic value of these ornamental trees.

Risk and Impact Factors

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  • Invasive in its native range
  • Proved invasive outside its native range
  • Abundant in its native range
  • Highly adaptable to different environments
  • Tolerant of shade
  • Capable of securing and ingesting a wide range of food
  • Highly mobile locally
  • Benefits from human association (i.e. it is a human commensal)
  • Gregarious
Impact outcomes
  • Altered trophic level
  • Damaged ecosystem services
  • Host damage
  • Increases vulnerability to invasions
  • Infrastructure damage
  • Loss of medicinal resources
  • Modification of fire regime
  • Modification of hydrology
  • Modification of nutrient regime
  • Negatively impacts agriculture
  • Negatively impacts cultural/traditional practices
  • Negatively impacts forestry
  • Negatively impacts livelihoods
  • Negatively impacts aquaculture/fisheries
  • Negatively impacts tourism
  • Reduced amenity values
  • Reduced native biodiversity
  • Soil accretion
  • Transportation disruption
  • Negatively impacts animal/plant collections
  • Damages animal/plant products
Likelihood of entry/control
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally accidentally
  • Difficult to identify/detect in the field
  • Difficult/costly to control

Detection and Inspection

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Coptotermes gestroi foraging tubes are frequently seen on wooden surfaces and tree trunks. During the swarming season (April to June), elongated mud tubes that serve as flight exit slits may be seen. C. gestroi damage tends to occur in places with high moisture levels, such as bathrooms, 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).

Monitoring stations can be set up to allow for targeted control (Su and Scheffrahn, 1998).

Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

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The following is adapted from Scheffrahn and Su (2000):

The soldiers of C. gestroi are similar to those of C. formosanus. Both species have a large fontanelle (opening on the forehead) and when viewed from above, both also have a tear drop-shaped head. However, the lateral profile of the top of the head just behind the fontanelle shows a weak bulge in C. gestroi that is absent in C. formosanus. As with C. formosanus, C. gestroi soldiers, which constitute about 10 to 15% of foraging groups, aggressively bite when challenged and exude a white mucus-like secretion from the fontanelle.

Coptotermes formosanus usually invades temperate climates (to 35° N latitude in the USA), whereas C. gestroi is limited to more tropical localities (to 26° N).

Microscopic examination of the fine hairs on the head revealed diagnostic differences between the two species: while C. gestroi soldiers have one pair of hairs near the rim of the fontanelle, in C. formosanus two pairs originate around the fontanelle.

The alates (winged forms) of C. gestroi are slightly smaller than those of C. formosanus (total length with wings about 13-14 mm vs. 14-15 mm and maximum head width 1.4 mm vs. 1.5 mm, respectively). The head, pronotum and dorsal abdomen of C. gestroi alates are dark brown, whereas those of C. formosanus are entirely a lighter yellow-brown or orange-brown. The darker pigmentation of the C. gestroi head provides a contrasting background for two light patches on the face called antennal spots; in contrast, the antennal spots in C. formosanus are barely, if at all, visible. The length of wing hairs is somewhat shorter in C. gestroi than in C. formosanus.

Prevention and Control

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Due to the variable regulations around (de)registration of pesticides, your national list of registered pesticides or relevant authority should be consulted to determine which products are legally allowed for use in your country when considering chemical control. Pesticides should always be used in a lawful manner, consistent with the product's label.

The following is adapted from Su and Scheffrahn (2000):

SPS measures

Some quarantine regulations exist that prohibit the transportation of materials infested with termites, but there is need for effective enforcement of these regulations. Given the destructive nature of C. gestroi and its propensity to infest cargo onboard ships and wooden components of sailing vessels, interdiction efforts should centre on ports.

Preventative Practice

Wood pressure-treated with preservatives (creosote, pentachlorophenol, or inorganic salts such as chromated copper arsenate or CCA) are required by building codes for use at the point of wood-soil interface, primarily to prevent fungi decay. C. gestroi does not damage pressure-treated wood, but is still capable of by-passing the treated wood to infest untreated wood in structures. The combination of water and wood or other cellulose materials provides attractive conditions for C. gestroi. Leaky plumbing, air conditioning condensate and any portion of the building that may collect excessive amounts of moisture should be corrected to maintain a drier environment that is less attractive to the termite.

Biological control

Biological control of termites using nematodes (Wilson-Rich et al., 2007), bacteria (Osbrink et al., 2001) and especially with entomopathogenic fungi (Culliney and Grace, 2000; Sun et al., 2003; Verma et al., 2009) has been investigated. The entomopathogenic nematode species Steinernema carpocapsae and Heterorhabditis indica (Mankowski et al., 2005) and entomopathogenic fungus Metarhizium anisopliae (Metchnikoff, 1879) were found to be effective biological control agents against C. gestroi (Maketon et al., 2007).

Chemical control

The conventional method for control of subterranean termites is to place a chemical barrier between termites and the structure that is to be protected. Currently available termiticides include permethrin, cypermethrin, bifenthrin, imidacloprid, chlorfenapyr, chlorantraniliprole and fipronil. Pyrethroids such as permethrin, cypermethrin and bifenthrin repel termites from treatment barriers, whereas other termiticides prevent termite invasion by lethal contact.

For preconstruction treatment (applied before a building is constructed), soil termiticides are applied onto sub-slab soil before the foundation is poured. Post-construction treatment can be done by drilling holes through slabs and injecting insecticides under the foundations, or by drenching trenches dug in soil alongside building foundations.

Because C. gestroi colonies are usually large, application of soil termiticides beneath a structure may not impact the overall population of several million termites that inhabit galleries extending up to 90 m. In recent years, baits have become available to control termite populations near a structure. One such approach is a monitoring-baiting program that incorporates a bait matrix containing noviflumuron or hexaflumuron, both chitin synthesis inhibitors (CSI). Noviflumuron or hexaflumuron have been proven to eliminate colonies in field trials (Grace et al., 1996; Su and Scheffrahn, 1998; Su et al., 2003). Stations containing a monitoring device are first installed in soil surrounding a home. When termites are found in the station, the monitoring device is replaced with a tube containing the hexaflumuron-laced bait. Termites feeding in the stations then carry baits to other members of a colony, leading to the demise of the entire colony population.

Monitoring and surveillance (incl. remote sensing)

Coptotermes gestroi monitoring stations are placed around a house periodically examined to determine the timing and location of the bait application. Electronic sensors are available for automated monitoring (Su, 2002). Baits are applied only when the termites are found and only at the stations where termite activity is intercepted. After eliminating C. gestroi populations near the house, the monitoring resumes and the bait is applied if new termite activity is detected. The monitoring and baiting procedure form the basis for an ongoing programme to protect structures from C. gestroi infestations (Su and Scheffrahn, 1998).


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Coptotermes gestroi - University of Florida IFAS Featured Creatures
GISD/IASPMR: Invasive Alien Species Pathway Management Resource and DAISIE European Invasive Alien Species Gateway source for updated system data added to species habitat list.

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17/07/14 Original text by:

Winnifred Aool, Natural Agricultural Research Laboratories, Kampala, Uganda

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