You may have heard the statistic that 1 in 3 homes will be attacked by termites within its lifetime, which is more than fire & flood combined. It is worth noting because it is a very unsettling statistic. It is also very true. The most important thing in any termite inspection or pre-purchase inspection is identification. Many species of termite do not require treatments as they are grass feeders or feed on specific decaying wood. These termites play an important role in the environment as they will convert fallen trees into organic matter & minerals.

There has been many times when a homeowner has mistaken ants for termites. The carpenter ant has been known to occupy similar environments as some species of termites in decayed timber. This insect will not attack sound timbers but it is still very unsettling for any homeowner to see an insect harbouring inside timbers within the home that have become or are becoming decayed. So as you can see it is very important to know what we are dealing with. Termites are primitive insects. They live in colonies that can populate into the millions. A colony consists of several categories or castes. The following information refers to the family of termites Termitidae & Rhinotermitidae.

house ants

The Queen

Before this termite became a queen, she was known as a developing reproductive in an already established nest. She later developed to become an alate also known as a winged termite or winged reproductive. She left the original colony (nest) as a fully developed alate on a colonizing/dispersal flight (you may have seen thousands of these alates either in the sky or in spider webs near your home). Upon landing the queen then sheds her wings & immediately begins the development of a new colony (nest) with the king. Initially the queen will tend to the young. Once the queen has produced enough workers to take over tending to the young, she will then wholly & solely concentrate on reproduction. The queen will potentially produce more than a thousand eggs/day. These eggs will first hatch into young termites or nymphs which are fed by the workers. They will start to grow, develop & begin to moult (shed their outer skin/exoskeleton).

By moulting several times these young termites or nymphs will then divide into several categories (castes);

• Workers

• Soldiers

• Reproductives


termite queen


Workers are the termites responsible for the damage in your home. Workers will typically make up most of the population in a colony. They are wingless, sterile & blind. Besides the eggs & nymphs, workers are the palest in colour of all termites in a colony. Workers will carry out the majority of the roles in a colony (other than defense & reproduction). This will include the excavation & gathering of food, tending to the young & queen, feeding the colony & the construction & maintenance of the nest.



The soldiers main role is the defense & protection of the colony. They are darker in colour to the workers. They are also blind (except for some primitive species that have poorly developed eyes). Soldiers are males & females although their sexual organs have not developed. The defense mechanism of a soldier termite varies in the different species. Mandibulate – these termites have a well-defined jaw system that they will use to attack predators. Nasute – these termites have a snout like appearance with tiny mandibles. They have the ability to block any holes made in the nest by predators. Some species of termites will use a chemical that they will disperse from a frontal gland in their heads. This is typically used to discourage ants & other invaders. Certain species of termites will have a major & minor soldier. This can also be helpful to determine how developed a colony is.




These termites have eyes & are the darkest in colour compared to workers & soldiers. They have a thicker outer skin/exoskeleton. The purpose of this is to provide a more resistant body as they will leave the nest & be directly exposed to the elements. Reproductives will grow fully functional wings throughout their development. These are more commonly known as alates, winged termites or winged reproductives. These alates will eventually leave the colony in the thousands on a dispersal flight when the weather conditions are similar to that of the nest i.e. around 25-36 degrees & around 100% humidity.

This is why you may see termites right before or after a storm. The high amount of moisture in the air helps these termites to avoid dehydration & therefore successfully find a place to establish a new colony. They are also attracted to light so you may see them around your verandah lights or an alternate light source. They have often been found in the hundreds of thousands trapped in spider webs that are close to a light source. This indicates that a fully functioning nest is within a close proximity to your home.

At this stage a very small amount of alates will survive. The ones that do will become the future kings & queens of new colonies. This cycle will continue to repeat itself over & over again & has remained unchanged for millions of years.