Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Datasheet

Cryptotermes brevis
(powderpost termite)

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Datasheet

Cryptotermes brevis (powderpost termite)

Summary

  • Last modified
  • 15 November 2018
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Pest
  • Natural Enemy
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Cryptotermes brevis
  • Preferred Common Name
  • powderpost termite
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Metazoa
  •     Phylum: Arthropoda
  •       Subphylum: Uniramia
  •         Class: Insecta
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • C. brevis is the most widely and frequently introduced termite in the world. Within the genus Cryptotermes, it is also the most important, invasive, and widespread of pest species. Other invasive conge...

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Pictures

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PictureTitleCaptionCopyright
The soldiers have black head capsules, the reproductives have brown bodies, and the pseudergates are cream. The small white individuals are larvae. A subsoldier is shown (arrowed) to the right of a reproductive.
TitleCastes
CaptionThe soldiers have black head capsules, the reproductives have brown bodies, and the pseudergates are cream. The small white individuals are larvae. A subsoldier is shown (arrowed) to the right of a reproductive.
CopyrightRudolf H. Scheffrahn
The soldiers have black head capsules, the reproductives have brown bodies, and the pseudergates are cream. The small white individuals are larvae. A subsoldier is shown (arrowed) to the right of a reproductive.
CastesThe soldiers have black head capsules, the reproductives have brown bodies, and the pseudergates are cream. The small white individuals are larvae. A subsoldier is shown (arrowed) to the right of a reproductive.Rudolf H. Scheffrahn
Eggs and first-instar larvae of C. brevis.
TitleEggs and larvae
CaptionEggs and first-instar larvae of C. brevis.
CopyrightRudolf H. Scheffrahn
Eggs and first-instar larvae of C. brevis.
Eggs and larvaeEggs and first-instar larvae of C. brevis.Rudolf H. Scheffrahn
Structural wood member (Pinus sp.) split open to expose C. brevis nestmates, galleries, and faecal pellets.
TitleColony in wood
CaptionStructural wood member (Pinus sp.) split open to expose C. brevis nestmates, galleries, and faecal pellets.
CopyrightRudolf H. Scheffrahn
Structural wood member (Pinus sp.) split open to expose C. brevis nestmates, galleries, and faecal pellets.
Colony in woodStructural wood member (Pinus sp.) split open to expose C. brevis nestmates, galleries, and faecal pellets.Rudolf H. Scheffrahn
Scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of C. brevis soldier in oblique view (note scale bar).
TitleSEM
CaptionScanning electron micrograph (SEM) of C. brevis soldier in oblique view (note scale bar).
CopyrightRudolf H. Scheffrahn
Scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of C. brevis soldier in oblique view (note scale bar).
SEMScanning electron micrograph (SEM) of C. brevis soldier in oblique view (note scale bar).Rudolf H. Scheffrahn
Faecal pellets of C. brevis showing variation in colour and size.
TitleFaecal pellets
CaptionFaecal pellets of C. brevis showing variation in colour and size.
CopyrightRudolf H. Scheffrahn
Faecal pellets of C. brevis showing variation in colour and size.
Faecal pelletsFaecal pellets of C. brevis showing variation in colour and size.Rudolf H. Scheffrahn
Faecal pellets ejected from infested furniture by C. brevis.
TitleFrass pile
CaptionFaecal pellets ejected from infested furniture by C. brevis.
CopyrightRudolf H. Scheffrahn
Faecal pellets ejected from infested furniture by C. brevis.
Frass pileFaecal pellets ejected from infested furniture by C. brevis.Rudolf H. Scheffrahn
Faecal carton constructed by C. brevis to cover a juncture between two wood members in a piece of furniture.
TitleFaecal carton
CaptionFaecal carton constructed by C. brevis to cover a juncture between two wood members in a piece of furniture.
CopyrightRudolf H. Scheffrahn
Faecal carton constructed by C. brevis to cover a juncture between two wood members in a piece of furniture.
Faecal cartonFaecal carton constructed by C. brevis to cover a juncture between two wood members in a piece of furniture.Rudolf H. Scheffrahn
Painted door frame with galleries exposed to show extent of C. brevis damage.
TitleDamage symptoms
CaptionPainted door frame with galleries exposed to show extent of C. brevis damage.
CopyrightRudolf H. Scheffrahn
Painted door frame with galleries exposed to show extent of C. brevis damage.
Damage symptomsPainted door frame with galleries exposed to show extent of C. brevis damage.Rudolf H. Scheffrahn
'Kick-out' holes excavated through a painted wood surface for pellet ejection by C. brevis.
Title'Kick-out' holes
Caption'Kick-out' holes excavated through a painted wood surface for pellet ejection by C. brevis.
CopyrightRudolf H. Scheffrahn
'Kick-out' holes excavated through a painted wood surface for pellet ejection by C. brevis.
'Kick-out' holes'Kick-out' holes excavated through a painted wood surface for pellet ejection by C. brevis.Rudolf H. Scheffrahn
Winged reproductive (alate) of C. brevis floating on the surface of water.
TitleAlate
CaptionWinged reproductive (alate) of C. brevis floating on the surface of water.
CopyrightRudolf H. Scheffrahn
Winged reproductive (alate) of C. brevis floating on the surface of water.
AlateWinged reproductive (alate) of C. brevis floating on the surface of water.Rudolf H. Scheffrahn
Right forewing of C. brevis showing the intersection of the median vein with the costal margin.
TitleRight forewing
CaptionRight forewing of C. brevis showing the intersection of the median vein with the costal margin.
CopyrightRudolf H. Scheffrahn
Right forewing of C. brevis showing the intersection of the median vein with the costal margin.
Right forewingRight forewing of C. brevis showing the intersection of the median vein with the costal margin.Rudolf H. Scheffrahn

Identity

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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Cryptotermes brevis (Walker, 1853)

Preferred Common Name

  • powderpost termite

Other Scientific Names

  • Calotermes brevis
  • Calotermes piceatus
  • Calotermes pseudobrevis
  • Cryptotermes grassii
  • Cryptotermes piceatus
  • Cryptotermes pseudobrevis
  • Cryptotermes rospigliosi
  • Kalotermes brevis
  • Kalotermes piceatus
  • Kalotermes pseudobrevis

International Common Names

  • English: dry wood termite; furniture termite; tropical rough-headed powder-post termite; West Indian dry wood termite

Local Common Names

  • : polilla de madera
  • Dominican Republic: comején
  • Puerto Rico: comején

EPPO code

  • CRYRBR (Cryptotermes brevis)
  • CRYRPI (Cryptotermes piceatus)

Summary of Invasiveness

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C. brevis is the most widely and frequently introduced termite in the world. Within the genus Cryptotermes, it is also the most important, invasive, and widespread of pest species. Other invasive congenerics include C. cynocephalus, C. domesticus, C. dudleyi and C. havilandi (Edwards and Mill, 1986). Endemic species of Cryptotermes, e.g. C. primus in Australia and C. bengalensis in India, may also colonize structural wood (Edwards and Mill, 1986). The majority of Cryptotermes species are not structural pests because they have higher moisture requirements and other ecological restrictions.

Taxonomic Tree

Top of page
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Metazoa
  •         Phylum: Arthropoda
  •             Subphylum: Uniramia
  •                 Class: Insecta
  •                     Order: Isoptera
  •                         Family: Kalotermitidae
  •                             Genus: Cryptotermes
  •                                 Species: Cryptotermes brevis

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

Top of page Cryptotermes Banks is the third largest genus in the termite family Kalotermitidae after Neotermes and Glyptotermes. Cryptotermes species occur in all zoogeographic regions, and a few, like C. brevis, are important pests of wood products. Snyder (1949) listed 26 Cryptotermes species worldwide. In his revision of the Kalotermitidae, Krishna (1961) recognized only 23 Cryptotermes species. Bacchus (1987) conducted a global revision of Cryptotermes following the Oriental and Australian revisions of the genus by Chhotani (1970) and Gay and Watson (1982), respectively. Bacchus (1987) recognized 47 species worldwide. Following the revision of West Indian Cryptotermes by Scheffrahn and Krecek (1999) and several single species descriptions, the genus now contains 68 species. The circum-Caribbean region is recognized as the centre of diversity for Cryptotermes with more than 20 species (Scheffrahn and Krecek, 1999). Worldwide, there are possibly another 30 Cryptotermes species yet to be described. C. brevis has been described under numerous synonyms including Cryptotermes pseudobrevis, Cryptotermes piceatus, Cryptotermes rospigliosi and Calotermes grassii. For extended synonymies see Araujo (1977), Bacchus (1987), Snyder (1949) and Chhotani (1970).

Description

Top of page Eggs and Larvae

The coloration of both C. brevis eggs and larvae (first- and second-instars) are whitish. The eggs are kidney-shaped and the chorion has a superficial honeycomb texture. The larvae resemble miniature pseudergates. The eggs and larvae are not useful for taxonomic verification.

Pseudergates (Pseudoworkers) and Nymphs

The pseudergates are sausage-shaped and very soft bodied. The slightest jarring causes the abdomen to burst. The nymphs are similar to pseudergates but possess wing pads that become longer with each of three successive moults until the winged reproductive is formed. Pseudergates and nymphs are not useful for taxonomic verification.

Soldiers

C. brevis soldiers are approximately 4-5 mm long and have a plug-like (phragmotic) head that is nearly black, deeply wrinkled, and about 1.2-1.4 mm wide. Their mandibles do not project nearly as far as those of other drywood termite genera, but they use their heads to plug-off galleries from invading ants. The pronotum of a drywood termite soldier such as C. brevis, is as wide or wider than the head capsule. The typical soldier:pseudergate/nymph proportion is about 1:50. The presoldier or 'white' soldier, is the instar between the pseudergate and soldier. The presoldier has the coloration of the pseudergate, but morphology more like that of the soldier. Soldiers are useful for taxonomic verification because of their characteristic head morphology and, unlike alates, they are present in the colony throughout the year. For measurements of a C. brevis soldier see Scheffrahn and Krecek (1999).

Reproductives (Imagos, Alates, Dealates)

C. brevis alates have two pairs of hairless, membranous wings that are about equal in size and shape and have three or four darkened and enlarged veins (subcosta and branches of the radial sector) in the leading (costal) margin of each wing. In general, the termite alates are weak fliers and flights are slow and fluttering, and the wings are often shed within minutes of landing. When the alate sheds its wings, it is called a dealate. If successfully paired and sealed within a nuptial chamber, a dealate pair becomes primary reproductives that are the young king and queen of an incipient colony. The bodies of C. brevis alates are medium-brown and are approximately 11-12 mm long with wings. Shed wings are about 9 mm long and the median vein usually curves in the outer third to terminate in the costal margin. C. brevis wings have a prismatic sheen when dry. For measurements of C. brevis alates see Scheffrahn and Krecek (1999).

The formation of secondary reproductives is common in groups of C. brevis pseudergates isolated from their primary reproductives (Williams et al., 1982). Unlike the primary reproductives, neotenic reproductives require the presence of a few pseudergates to produce brood (Lenz, 1987). Neotenic, or secondary reproductives moult from the pseudergate, never have wings, and remain in the colony to share reproductive duties. The coloration of neotenic reproductives is lighter than that of primary reproductives.

Distribution

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C. brevis is the most widespread drywood termite in the tropics and subtropics worldwide. Humans have probably imported C. brevis to every corner of the world, because it may infest the smallest of woody or cellulosic objects. Hong Kong is the only locality in Asia where this termite has been reported. Either C. brevis has gone unreported in the rest of Asia, or Asia is the single subtropical/tropical region in the world where this species is uncommon. Unlikely sites of introduction and isolated establishment include such temperate locations as England (Hickin, 1961), Ontario, Canada (Myles, 1995), Wisconsin, USA (Gay, 1967), and Alaska, USA (RH Scheffrahn, University of Florida, USA, and MI Haverty, USA Forest Service, Albany, California, USA, personal communication, 2004). In addition to records in the distribution table of this datasheet, C. brevis is present in Anguilla, Antiga and Barbuda (RH Scheffrahn, University of Florida, USA, personal communication, 2004) and Azores, Portugal (TG Myles, University of Toronto, Canada, personal communication, 2004).

Although described from specimens collected in Jamaica in 1853 and now occurring on all inhabited islands of the West Indies, C. brevis is not indigenous to the islands of that region. This species only infests structural lumber, therefore its origin remains unknown, but is likely endemic to an obscure location on the neotropical mainland, possibly coastal Peru or northern Chile (J Krecek, University of Florida, USA, personal communication, 2004). Another clue to the endemic locality of C. brevis may be the occurrence of C. darwini, a species that closely resembles C. brevis. C. darwini occurs in standing dead trees and branches of the Galapagos Islands (Light, 1935), and like C. brevis, has no arolium between the pretarsal claws (Bacchus, 1987).

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.

Continent/Country/RegionDistributionLast ReportedOriginFirst ReportedInvasiveReferenceNotes

Asia

China
-Hong KongPresentIntroduced Invasive Light, 1929

Africa

Cape VerdePresent, few occurrencesIntroduced Invasive
Congo Democratic RepublicPresentIntroduced1945 Invasive Coaton, 1948
EgyptRestricted distributionIntroduced Invasive Nour et al., 1966
GambiaPresentIntroduced Invasive Chhotani, 1970
GhanaPresentIntroduced1973 Invasive Bacchus, 1987
MadagascarWidespreadIntroduced1959 Invasive Paulian, 1970
NigeriaWidespreadIntroduced Invasive Chhotani, 1970
Saint HelenaPresentIntroduced1960 Invasive Chhotani, 1970
SenegalPresentIntroduced1964 Invasive Chhotani, 1970
Sierra LeonePresentIntroduced1936 Invasive Coaton, 1948
South AfricaWidespreadIntroduced1918 Invasive Fuller, 1921
Spain
-Canary IslandsRestricted distributionIntroduced Invasive Martínez, 1957
UgandaPresentIntroduced1966 Invasive Oloya, 1966
ZimbabwePresent, few occurrencesIntroduced1964 Invasive Coaton and Sheasby, 1979

North America

BermudaPresentIntroduced1938 Invasive Chhotani, 1970
Canada
-OntarioEradicatedIntroduced1990 Invasive Myles, 1995
MexicoWidespreadIntroduced Invasive Hagen, 1858
USA
-CaliforniaAbsent, formerly presentIntroduced Invasive Light, 1936
-FloridaWidespreadIntroduced1919 Invasive Banks and Snyder, 1920
-GeorgiaPresent, few occurrencesIntroduced2001 Invasive Scheffrahn et al., 2001b
-HawaiiWidespreadIntroducedc. 1900 Invasive Fullaway, 1921
-LouisianaRestricted distributionIntroduced Invasive Light, 1934; Messenger et al., 2002
-South CarolinaPresent, few occurrencesIntroduced Invasive Hathorne et al., 2000
-TexasRestricted distributionIntroduced Invasive Weesner, 1970

Central America and Caribbean

BahamasWidespreadIntroduced1922 Invasive Snyder, 1948
BarbadosPresentIntroduced1936 Invasive Adamson, 1938
BelizePresentIntroduced Invasive Harris, 1959
British Virgin IslandsWidespreadIntroduced Invasive Scheffrahn et al., 1994
Cayman IslandsPresentIntroduced Invasive Scheffrahn et al., 1994
Costa RicaPresentIntroduced1929 Invasive Snyder, 1934
CubaWidespreadIntroduced Invasive Hagen, 1858
CuraçaoPresentIntroduced Invasive Snyder, 1956
DominicaWidespreadIntroduced Invasive Banks, 1919
Dominican RepublicWidespreadIntroduced Invasive Snyder, 1956
El SalvadorPresentIntroduced1942 Invasive Coaton, 1948
GrenadaPresentIntroduced1938 Invasive Adamson, 1938
GuadeloupeWidespreadIntroduced Invasive Snyder, 1956
GuatemalaWidespreadIntroduced Invasive Becker, 1953
HaitiWidespreadIntroduced Invasive Snyder, 1956
JamaicaWidespreadIntroduced Invasive Walker, 1853
MartiniqueWidespreadIntroduced Invasive Scheffrahn and Krecek, 1999
MontserratPresentIntroduced Invasive Scheffrahn et al., 1994
PanamaPresentIntroduced Invasive Nickle and Collins, 1992
Puerto RicoWidespreadIntroduced Invasive Wolcott, 1924
Saint Kitts and NevisPresentIntroduced Invasive Coaton, 1948
Saint LuciaPresentIntroduced Invasive Adamson, 1938
Saint Vincent and the GrenadinesPresentIntroduced Invasive Adamson, 1938
Trinidad and TobagoWidespreadIntroduced1933 Invasive Adamson, 1937
Turks and Caicos IslandsWidespreadIntroduced Invasive Scheffrahn et al., 1990
United States Virgin IslandsWidespreadIntroduced Invasive Hagen, 1858

South America

BoliviaRestricted distributionIntroduced Invasive Squire, 1972
BrazilRestricted distributionIntroduced Invasive Hagen, 1858; Constantino, 2002
-BahiaRestricted distributionIntroduced Invasive Fowler and Forti, 1990
-Espirito SantoRestricted distributionIntroduced Invasive Araujo, 1970
-GoiasRestricted distributionIntroduced Invasive Fontes, 1998
-Minas GeraisRestricted distributionIntroduced Invasive Araujo, 1958
-ParaibaRestricted distributionIntroduced Invasive Bandeira et al., 1998
-ParanaRestricted distributionIntroduced Invasive Fowler and Forti, 1990
-Rio de JaneiroWidespreadIntroduced Invasive Fowler and Forti, 1990
-Rio Grande do SulRestricted distributionIntroduced Invasive Fowler and Forti, 1990
-Santa CatarinaRestricted distributionIntroduced Invasive Fowler and Forti, 1990
-Sao PauloWidespreadIntroduced Invasive Araujo, 1958
ChilePresentIntroduced Not invasive Janicki, 1911
-Easter IslandPresentIntroduced1965 Invasive Campos and Pena, 1973
ColombiaWidespreadIntroduced Invasive Walker, 1853
EcuadorPresentIntroduced1932 Invasive Coaton, 1948
French GuianaPresentIntroduced Invasive Lefeuve, 1990
GuyanaWidespreadIntroduced1920 Invasive Emerson, 1925
PeruWidespreadIntroduced Invasive Snyder, 1922
SurinameWidespreadIntroduced Invasive Araujo, 1970
UruguayRestricted distributionIntroduced1920 Invasive Bacchus, 1987
VenezuelaWidespreadIntroduced Invasive Martorell, 1939

Europe

GermanyAbsent, formerly presentIntroduced Invasive Becker and Kny, 1977
ItalyRestricted distributionIntroduced Invasive Liotta and Matranga, 1999; Raineri et al., 2001
PortugalPresent, few occurrencesIntroducedNunes et al., 2010Pest detected in one building in Lisbon.
-MadeiraRestricted distributionIntroduced Invasive Chhotani, 1970; Nobre and Nunes, 2001
SpainPresent, few occurrencesIntroducedNunes et al., 2010Pest detected in five buildings in Barcelona.

Oceania

Australia
-New South WalesRestricted distributionIntroduced<1933 Invasive Gay and Watson, 1982
-QueenslandRestricted distributionIntroduced1964 Invasive Gay and Watson, 1982
FijiRestricted distributionIntroduced1932 Invasive Snyder, 1949
French PolynesiaPresentIntroduced1926 Invasive Light, 1932
New CaledoniaPresentIntroduced1933 Invasive Coaton and Sheasby, 1979
New ZealandPresentIntroduced Invasive Bennett, 2012

History of Introduction and Spread

Top of page Due to the cryptic nature and slow natural dispersal ability of C. brevis, most records of C. brevis were probably recorded long after initial introduction. C. brevis was probably spread by infested wooden ships from which alates dispersed onto land, and by the movement of infested wooden goods from seaport to seaport as development of the New World proceeded in the seventeenth century. Most initial early reports of C. brevis were from coastal or seaport localities. Most introductions were probably limited to the New World until the late nineteenth or early twentieth century.

Risk of Introduction

Top of page Tropical Asia remains the only region in which C. brevis is not widely dispersed. All other tropical and subtropical regions are now home to C. brevis to some degree because of the free movement of infested goods. Colonies of C. brevis are typically not associated with plant products or agricultural commodities, and therefore, are often bypassed by quarantine inspections or other exotic pest prevention programmes. Quarantine/eradication programmes in South Africa (Coaton and Sheasby, 1979) and Australia (Heather, 1971; Peters, 1990a) have not been successful for eradication, but they have substantially diminished the spread and damage caused by C. brevis. Because of the cryptic nature of their colonies, especially small incipient infestations, it is probably impossible to eradicate C. brevis once it becomes established in a new locality.

Habitat

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C. brevis is exclusively synanthropic. As an example of this dependence on wood in human habitats, of the approximately 6000 drywood termite samples collected from dead trees, shrubs, stumps, and other woody growth in the West Indies, where C. brevis is common in structures, none contained C. brevis (RH Scheffrahn, University of Florida, personal communication, 2004). This pattern of occurrence is characteristic for this species worldwide. The discovery of C. brevis in a woodland locality on Oahu, Hawaii, USA (Scheffrahn at al., 2000) is one of two known non-structural infestations of C. brevis. The other is a colony that was collected from a dead tree in Lima, Peru (J Krecek, University of Florida, USA, personal communication, 2004). As a general rule, if wood is exposed to rainfall or hot direct sunlight, it will not be successfully colonized by C. brevis.

Habitat List

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CategoryHabitatPresenceStatus
Littoral
Coastal areas Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial-managed
Cultivated / agricultural land Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Disturbed areas Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Managed forests, plantations and orchards Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Managed grasslands (grazing systems) Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Protected agriculture (e.g. glasshouse production) Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Rail / roadsides Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Urban / peri-urban areas Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Terrestrial-natural/semi-natural
Deserts Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Natural forests Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Natural grasslands Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Riverbanks Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
Wetlands Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)

Hosts/Species Affected

Top of page C. brevis has been observed infesting the sapwood and heartwood of both softwoods and hardwoods of many wood species. It feeds on sound dry lumber, furniture, and structural wood that is protected from precipitation (RH Scheffrahn, University of Florida, personal communication, 2004). Although several studies have shown various levels of resistance or non-preference to certain woods or heartwood extracts to feeding pseudergates (Scheffrahn, 1991), none have directly dealt with host wood preferences of newly flown reproductives. It is the choice of these future kings and queens of the colony that ultimately dictates the species and form of wood in which the colony will live. Suggesting that alates show wood preference, Boone (1966) reported that inspection of a museum display in Hawaii, USA of 79 native Hawaiian woods found C. brevis damage on 25 species.

Host Plants and Other Plants Affected

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Plant nameFamilyContext
AceraceaeAceraceaeMain
CupressaceaeCupressaceaeMain
FagaceaeFagaceaeMain
MaliaceaeMain
OleaceaeOleaceaeMain
PinaceaePinaceaeMain
TiliaceaeTiliaceaeMain
UlmaceaeUlmaceaeMain

Growth Stages

Top of page Post-harvest

Symptoms

Top of page C. brevis colonies, like those of other drywood termites, are composed of three primary castes: the reproductives (king, queen, and unflown alates), soldiers, and immature workers or pseudergates (i.e. 'false workers'). The pseudergates excavate wood to feed themselves and the other caste members in the colony. The eggs and larvae (first two instars) are usually near galleries inhabited by the king and queen. All termite species are difficult to distinguish by immature or worker stages or by the wingless king or queen, therefore, soldiers or alates should be used for species identification. Soldiers are present in colonies year round, whereas alates develop about a month before the flight season.

Colonies of all drywood termite species infest sound, solid hardwoods and softwoods, including all common building lumbers used in structural framing and plywood. Numerous colonies may inhabit a single structure. C. brevis is more apt than the other species to infest smaller articles of furniture such as headboards, cabinets, and picture frames and, occasionally, even thick cellulose products such as books, toilet paper rolls, tissue boxes, packaged playing cards, cigar boxes, etc.

Pseudergates and nymphs (pseudergates with wing pads) typically excavate galleries in sapwood in preference to heartwood, but show no preference between annual spring and summer growth rings. Because drywood termites seek protection from external predation, galleries are concealed beneath the wood surface. Sounding with a hard implement can locate hollowed-out wood. A very thin wood surface in late stages of attack may have a blistered appearance. However, external signs of infestations most often consist of faecal pellets extruded from 1-2 mm diameter 'kick-out' holes. Pellets will accumulate in piles directly beneath the holes. Pile diameter is proportional to the height from which pellets fall. Drywood termite faecal pellets, with six longitudinal surfaces capped with one rounded and one more tapered end, are uniquely shaped compared to all other wood-infesting insects. When C. brevis was fed on Douglas fir, most of the carbohydrates in the pellets were assimilated by the termite, but the lignin remained relatively unchanged (Leopold, 1952). Other woods are probably also digested to their residual lignin components. Pellets vary in colour from cream to red to black and are expelled periodically from different 'kick-out' holes communicating with the gallery system. The pellets do not change in shape or colour over time and their colour is often unrelated to the colour of the wood from which they were expelled. Dispersing alates, wings, and ejected faecal pellets are a sanitary nuisance, and pellets may present a slipping hazard on smooth floors.

Except during dispersal flights, C. brevis lives entirely within the wood colonized by the imagos. When an infested wood member is in close proximity < 1 cm) from another member, the termites may construct a protective carton dome or bridging structure to colonize the adjacent member or cover an exposed gallery. This carton is formed from liquid faeces, which the termites also exude to seal the 'kick-out' holes.

List of Symptoms/Signs

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SignLife StagesType
Stems / internal feeding
Stems / visible frass

Biology and Ecology

Top of page Genetics

Luykx and Syren (1979) reported that diploid mitotic chromosome number in C. brevis is 37 for males and 36 for females. The diploid chromosome complement consists almost entirely of acrocentrics and telocentrics, but has one metacentric that forms the central element in a chain of three chromosomes during meiosis.

Physiology and Phenology

Drywood termites rely on symbiotic flagellated protists (Kirby, 1941) for digestion of the cellulose in wood fibres into available carbohydrates. A drywood termite has a specialised rectum for water absorption. Rectal papillae remove essentially all moisture from the faeces, which is then expelled as a dry pellet. Cuticular hydrocarbons and a heavy cuticular cement layer may also play a role in the desiccation resistance of C. brevis (Collins, 1969). Haverty et al. (2000) reported that at least half of the hydrocarbons of C. brevis are olefins. Breznak et al. (1973) found that reproductives of C. brevis were capable of nitrogen fixation, an element that is very limited in wood.

Reproductive Biology

Each year, a proportion of pseudergates in a mature colony moults, via the nymphal stage, into winged reproductives also known as alates. The alates leave the colony during a series of dispersal flights over a period of several weeks. This is the only time when colony members leave the confines of their excavated wood galleries and is often the first sign of a structural infestation. Alates of C. brevis fly between dusk and dawn during the spring, most typically in May and November in the northern and southern hemispheres, respectively, with a smaller flight sometimes occurring in the autumn. In Key West, Florida, USA, Minnick (1973) reported peak flights in late May and early June at approximately 30 minutes after sunrise and 80 minutes after sunset. The alates are attracted to lights, thus drawing them to structures. After a brief flight, the alates land and almost instantaneously shed their wings and segregate into male/female pairs (Minnick, 1973). The male follows the female in tandem as they inspect wood surfaces for defects such as cracks, crevices, knots, or nail holes, which are the preferred foci for nuptial chamber sites. Once the pair selects the chamber site, its opening is sealed with liquid faeces. Copulation takes place within the nuptial chamber. During the first 6 months, the initial batch of eggs hatches into larvae. In the second or third year, the first soldier may appear along with additional brood. A colony matures in no less than 5 years, at which time it produces its first crop of alates. Colony growth is slow (McMahan, 1962). Colonies can live over 10 years and contain over 1000 members. As a result of recolonizing the same wood member, numerous colonies may live in close proximity and are thought to share gallery systems. Twenty colonies (as counted by number of pairs of primary reproductives) have been recorded from a single wooden door.

In a colony foundation study, Scheffrahn et al. (1998) used paired Picea sp. blocks as a C. brevis colonization platform. The preferred colonization site was the crevice between the two blocks followed by the bottom surface that formed a crevice with the metal substrate. The tops and exterior of the block pairs were least preferred for nuptial chamber construction. They further observed that lone heterosexual pairs headed 52% of colonies containing live termites. Of incipient colonies containing brood, 80% were headed by lone heterosexual pairs, 16% had additional dealates (alate that has shed its wings) occupying chambers with a heterosexual couple, and 4% lost one or both founding reproductives. The broods in 4-month-old C. brevis colonies were small, with the number of eggs and/or larvae being three or fewer, whereas the 6-month-old colonies contained a higher proportion of larvae over eggs than in the 4-month-old colonies. McMahan (1962) reported a mean of approximately one egg and three to five larvae or pseudergates (>third-instar) from 4- to 6-month-old C. brevis colonies composed of laboratory-paired dealates placed inside prepared termitaria.

Using larger attic simulation modules, Scheffrahn et al. (2001a) found that C. brevis constructed almost all nuptial chambers in crevices forming the junctures between boards. They found that two types of nuptial chambers were usually encountered, those that were empty and those that contained live or dead dealates. The empty protochambers mostly consisted of small surface excavations 0.5-1 mm deep and a few millimetres wide. Chambers containing live dealates and especially live brood were larger and deeper; up to 21 mm wide and 8 mm deep. These chambers also usually contained pellets, although in some cases the pellets had been expelled outside.

Environmental Requirements

Based on meteorological data from C. brevis localities in Africa, Williams (1976) estimated that this species thrives in climates of higher desiccation, lower wood moisture content (10-12%), and lower minimum average temperatures (7°C) than Cryptotermes dudleyi or Cryptotermes havilandi. Collins (1969) reported that C. brevis had the greatest desiccation tolerance and lowest weight loss among eight kalotermitid species exposed to 0-4% relative humidity (RH) and 35°C. Woodrow and Grace (1999) reported that microclimates associated with C. brevis in Hawaii, USA were fairly uniform with an overall mean wood-core temperature of 24°C. The highest wood-core temperature was 43°C and the lowest was 14°C. Ambient RH was more variable than temperature with values varying as much as 55% RH during a single month. Monthly mean RH was as high as 75% and ranged from 98% to 27%. In the laboratory, Steward (1983) found that C. brevis was able to reproduce quickly with adults or neotenic reproductives at moderate or low humidities (90 and 60-70% RH, respectively), whereas three other Cryptotermes species preferred higher humidities (85-95% RH).

Natural enemies

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Natural enemyTypeLife stagesSpecificityReferencesBiological control inBiological control on
Metarhizium anisopliae Pathogen
Verticillium indicum Pathogen

Notes on Natural Enemies

Top of page Although ants may opportunistically invade C. brevis colonies, no species, genus, or family-specific predators or parasites are known for C. brevis. Numerous opportunistic but not obligatory predators, including ants, spiders, reptiles (anoles, geckos), amphibians (toads and frogs), birds, and bats will feed on imagos during dispersal flights.

Means of Movement and Dispersal

Top of page Natural Dispersal

Colony maturation in C. brevis is measured in years and the wing-reproductives are weak fliers making this and other termite species slow to disperse. Over water and windblown dispersal by termites is also unlikely because mate selection and copulation take place after flight. Without human transport, C. brevis would probably disperse no more than a few hundred metres per year from an urban or suburban location infested with mature, alate-producing colonies.

Movement in Trade

Any movement of seasoned wooden articles, large or small, from areas where C. brevis occurs could result in new introductions at their point of destination. Interior wooden components of boats and ships may also result in introductions at ports-of-call. Dispersing alates will be attracted to lights on portside buildings or on other boats.

Pathway Vectors

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VectorNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Land vehiclesShips, boats Yes

Plant Trade

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Plant parts liable to carry the pest in trade/transportPest stagesBorne internallyBorne externallyVisibility of pest or symptoms
Wood adults; eggs; larvae; nymphs; pupae Yes 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
Stems (above ground)/Shoots/Trunks/Branches
True seeds (inc. grain)

Wood Packaging

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

Impact Summary

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CategoryImpact
Animal/plant products Negative
Animal/plant products Negative
Trade/international relations Negative
Trade/international relations Negative

Impact

Top of page Drywood termites are an almost ubiquitous part of older wooden structures in regions where they commonly occur. Structures only 5-10 years old may harbour infestations requiring treatment. Drywood termite control costs in the USA are estimated to exceed US$ 300 million annually with the greatest losses occurring in southern California, peninsular Florida and Hawaii. C. brevis accounts for about US$ 120 million in the USA and untold amounts worldwide (RH Scheffrahn, University of Florida, personal communication, 2004).

Economic Impact

Top of page Drywood termites are an almost ubiquitous part of older wooden structures in regions where they commonly occur. Structures only 5-10 years old may harbour infestations requiring treatment. Drywood termite control costs in the USA are estimated to exceed US$ 300 million annually with the greatest losses occurring in southern California, peninsular Florida and Hawaii. C. brevis accounts for about US$ 120 million in the USA and untold amounts worldwide (RH Scheffrahn, University of Florida, personal communication, 2004).

Diagnosis

Top of page The winged reproductives of Cryptotermes are difficult to differentiate by colour, size, or wing venation. However, the imago of C. brevis is unique among structure-infesting congeners in that the last tarsal segment, the pretarsus, lacks a fleshy pad, or arolium, between the claws. The course of the median vein, in both fore- and hind-wings, is variable in C. brevis. The median vein may run a typical route in which it contacts the costal margin near the mid-wing or it may be atypical for Cryptotermes by intersecting the costal margin far beyond the mid-wing or running to the wing margin without intersecting the costal margin (Scheffrahn et al., 1988). The wings of C. brevis, unlike many other structure-infesting drywood termites, have a prismatic sheen when light is reflected on the wing membrane. Among structure-infesting Cryptotermes, the soldier head capsule of C. brevis is conspicuously and deeply rugose over the entire surface of the frons and most of the vertex.

Detection and Inspection

Top of page Like other drywood termites, C. brevis infestations can be detected by the presence of faecal pellets, often deposited in conical piles or circular patterns depending on the vertical distance from the 'kick-out' holes on the surface of infested wood. Alate dispersal flight or the wings they shed and leave behind are also signals of a nearby infestation. The infestation site or confirmation of a live infestation can be determined by a number of inspection techniques. The most common method is to probe suspected wood surfaces with a screwdriver or sharp tool to break the thin surface and expose the termites in their galleries. A number of non-destructive methods are being marketed that may prove useful for drywood termite inspections. More complete data have been published on acoustic emission detection (Scheffrahn et al., 1993, 1997a; Thoms, 2000). However, microwave, x-ray, infrared, metabolic gas, and canine detection methods also show promise (Quarles, 2004).

Similarities to Other Species/Conditions

Top of page As with all termites, drywood termite species are social insects. Unlike subterranean termites, C. brevis and other drywood termites live entirely within the wood members they infest and obtain water adsorbed onto wood fibres and by metabolic processes. Drywood termites are generally larger and more cylindrical in body form compared to subterranean termites. Because their gallery systems are limited to and usually extend only a few metres within their home wood, drywood termites have proportionally shorter legs and move more slowly than their more distant-foraging subterranean counterparts. Characters shared with other termites include chewing mouthparts for feeding on wood, well-developed tarsal claws for gripping wood surfaces, moniliform (bead-like) antennae, and blindness except in the reproductive caste. C. brevis produces faecal pellets, 'kick-out' holes, and feeding damage that is identical to other drywood termite species. The size, colour, and shape of faecal pellets cannot be used to identify C. brevis. Structure-infesting Cryptotermes spp. can be differentiated from pest species of Incisitermes spp. in that soldiers of the former have phragmotic heads, whereas the latter have head capsules with long projecting mandibles.

Prevention and Control

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Chemical Control

Chemical prevention involves the treatment of attics and wall voids with desiccating or toxic dusts that kill freshly flown reproductives as they contact treated surfaces while searching for nest sites. Borate dusts, silica dusts, and residual chemicals have been shown to impede nuptial chamber construction (Scheffrahn et al., 1998, 2001a). The application of preventative chemicals is best done during the framing phase of construction when all wood surfaces are accessible to treatment. Dealates (alates that have shed their wings) will not infest lumber that has been pressure-treated with chromated copper arsenate (CCA) wood preservatives (Scheffrahn et al., 1998).

Local or 'spot' treatments for drywood termite control include wood injection surface applications, microwave energy, electrocution, and wood replacement. Wood injection or 'drill-and-treat' applications use an insecticide that is injected into small holes drilled to intersect termite galleries (Scheffrahn et al., 1998). This is the simplest and most direct method of treatment. Recently, the non-repellent and slow-acting insecticides, fipronil, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam, have gained registration in the USA for intragallery injections for drywood termites. Spinosad showed good field efficacy against C. brevis in field trials (Scheffrahn and Thoms, 1999; Thoms, 2000), but this chemical has not been marketed for drywood termite control. Spray and foam applications of products containing boron salts must be applied to raw, uncoated wood surfaces. Because penetration depths of borate solutions and depth of drywood termite galleries vary, drill injection into infested wood should also be performed as surface application alone has been shown not to be as effective as a remedial treatment (Scheffrahn et al., 1998). The monoterpene, limonene (a natural product) will kill drywood termites on contact when injected into galleries or applied to uncoated wood surfaces (RH Scheffrahn, University of Florida, personal communication, 2004).

Fumigation ('tenting') is a highly technical procedure that involves surrounding the structure with a gas-tight tarpaulin, sealing the tarpaulin to the ground, releasing an insecticidal gas inside the enclosure, and aerating the fumigant after a set exposure time. The overriding advantage of structural fumigation to control C. brevis and other drywood termites is that fumigation insures the eradication of this pest throughout the entire structure including all hidden or inaccessible infestations. Sulfuryl fluoride is the primary fumigant for C. brevis control in the USA. Osbrink et al. (1987) reported on sulfuryl fluoride toxicity to drywood termites under laboratory conditions.

Drywood termites are hidden inside the wood they infest, therefore it may be difficult to immediately verify the success of a given treatment. However, new detection methods may improve control verification (Quarles, 2004). A dispersal flight within a few years of treatment suggests either that the treatment was unsuccessful, infested wood was brought into the structure, or a hidden, untreated, infestation was present and remains to be treated. Accumulation of pellets, especially in a cone-shaped pattern, is also a sign of active drywood termites. All pellets should be removed after a treatment to ensure that colony activity has ceased. A re-treatment is warranted if new pellets are observed. Pellets may continue to trickle from the wood after successful control if the wood member is periodically subjected to vibrations or jarring such as a door or doorframe.

Early Warning Systems

C. brevis alates are attracted to lights. Therefore a light trap or sticky trap near a light can be used to monitor for C. brevis dispersal flights.

IPM Programmes

Although no data exist on the effectiveness of non-chemical methods, several might be considered to reduce the colonization potential of C. brevis in structures. These methods include alate exclusion, alate avoidance, the use of non-wood materials, nuptial chamber site reduction, and wood article inspection. Alate exclusion consists of 'tight' building practices, such as the use of exterior caulking and use of small mesh <1 mm openings) attic and window screening, but complete blockage of alate entry points is difficult. The reduction or elimination of outside lighting around buildings during dispersal flight season may prevent attraction of alates from neighbouring infested structures. Nail holes, cracks and crevices, used by C. brevis as foci for nuptial chamber construction should be sealed. All wooden furnishings being brought into buildings should be inspected for C. brevis infestation.

Non-chemical treatments for C. brevis and other drywood termites have been marketed at various times in the USA (Lewis and Haverty, 1996). Microwave energy, applied to relatively small sections of infested wood, kills termites by heating them. The electrocution method uses a hand-held 'gun', which is passed slowly over the infested wood. The high voltage and low current energy emitted by the probe electrocutes termites in the immediate application area, but metal interferes with this treatment. Wood replacement allows for absolute removal of a drywood termite infestation if it is isolated to a wood member that can be detached relatively easily, as for example, a fascia board or a door.

Due to technical challenges, heat treatments are usually not applied to the entire building, but are limited to known areas of infestation, and along with excessive cold, are classified as compartmental treatments. In the USA, heat treatments have been used to eradicate drywood termites from a portion of a house such as an attic, porch, or bedroom, or from an individual apartment or condominium unit inside a multi-family dwelling. Hot air is delivered using high-output propane heaters. Scheffrahn et al. (1997b) reported that C. brevis was killed when exposed to 50°C for more than or exactly 4 minutes regardless of humidity or prior heat acclimation. Similar results were later obtained on C. brevis populations in Hawaii, USA (Woodrow and Grace, 1998). Excessive cold is primarily used for treating wall voids or similar small enclosures in a structure. Liquid nitrogen is delivered into these voids until the temperature falls to a level lethal to drywood termites (Rust et al., 1997). Small wooden articles can be treated by placing them in warm ovens or freezers. Items placed in freezers should be sealed in bags to avoid condensation upon removal.

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