Termites (Isoptera)

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Rank & taxon

Order Blattodea, Infraorder Isoptera


Adult: Termites are small to medium sized eusocial insects, ranging from 3 to 20 mm in length. They have pale, elongate bodies, chewing mouthparts, and antennae about the same length as the head. Wings are only present in the reproductive castes and are shed after mating.

Larvae: Termite nymphs look much like the adults, only smaller.


Worldwide; more than 2,800 described species in 7 families

Biology/life cycle

Termite colonies range from several hundred to several million individuals. Reproductive castes are usually produced when colonies reach a certain critical size. The winged, reproductive male and female usually fly away from the colony to mate, establishing a new colony. The first brood becomes the first workers and soldiers, building up the nest to accomodate the queen as she lays eggs almost continually. The male and female continue to mate for life. The worker caste is primarily responsible to foraging, food storage, and brood and nest maintenance. Termites feed exclusively on cellulose, usually of dead or dying wood, but occasionally of live wood. While some termites can produce their own cellulase enymes, most termites have specialized symbiotic bacteria and/or protozoa in their guts to aid in cellulose digestion. Termites occasionally become pests of palms at times of high termite populations, plant stress, or drought.


Palms: a wide variety of palms

Other: a wide variety of plants

Representative taxa on palms

The formosan subterranean termite, Coptotermes formosanus, is one of the most widely distributed and economically important termite pests in the world. It is probably native to China, but has been transported to Japan, Hawaii, South Africa, Sri Lanka, and the southeastern US. It is considered the single most economically important insect pest in the state of Hawaii, attacking structures as well as many species of living plants, including palms.

The coconut termite, Neotermes rainbowi, attacks coconut palms on several islands of the South Pacific. They hollow out and establish colonies in the trunks of coconut palms (Cocos nucifera), often leading to the collapse of the tree. Coconut termites are not known to occur in the US or the Caribbean.

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