Jamie Neely, Entomologist, Serving the Real Estate Industry in Hawaii since 1973. Member Entomological Society of America  
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The Formosan Subterranean Termite
The West Indian Drywood Termite
The Economic Significance
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Termites are among the most destructive groups of insects, especially in the tropics. About 1,800 species have been described. Although a predominantly a tropical group, the distribution throughout the world roughly coincides with the 51 degree F. mean annual isotherm, which roughly follows the forty-fifth parallel of latitude in both hemispheres. Only a few genera are restricted to temperate regions (Zimmerman, 1948). All termites are of the order Isoptera. In the literal translation of the word, "Isoptera," in Latin, isos, means "equal" and pteron, means "wing." Termites have wings that are of equal size, whereas other winged insects have different size wings on their bodies. Termites are nicknamed "white ants" in Australia, shiroale in Japan. Their Hawaiian name is "naonao lele."

In Hawaii, there are four established species. Three belong to the family, Kalotermitidae, which are drywood termites. These three species are the West Indian drywood termite, Cryptotermes brevis, the lowland tree termite, Kalotermes immigrans, and the forest tree termite, Neotermes connexus. The fourth species belongs to the family, Rhinotermitidae. This is the Formosan subterranean termite, Coptotermes formosanus, also known as the ground termite. Since all termites are of the same order, they possess many similarities. All termites have a nest with one or more queens. They each have a caste system with workers, soldiers, primary reproductives, supplementary reproductives, and alates (winged reproductives) which are sent out to start their own colonies. The four species in Hawaii vary only slightly in size and color. The West Indian termite adults are sometimes confused with the Formosan termite the bodies of which are smaller and are dark brown to black rather than amber or honey colored.

The two species discussed in this reading which cause the most damage to property in Hawaii, thus are of most economic importance are the Formosan subterranean termite and the West Indian drywood termite. They will be our primary focus of attention. The lowland tree termite and the forest tree termite species, on the other hand, are considered beneficial because they attack dead plant limbs and help recycle nutrients to the environment for other organisms. They rarely attack homes and are of little economic importance. Both lowland and forest species were first recorded in Hawaii in 1883 (Yates-Urban Press, 1989).

The lowland tree termite can be found at low elevations in dead branches of Koa haole, panex hedges, and Banyan trees. They are prevalent in the Banyan trees behind Iolani Palace. Soldiers of the lowland termite have distinct sickle-shaped, saw-toothed mandibles (jaws); their long heads are light brown. Fecal pellets are loose and light colored with streaks of reddish-brown.
The forest tree termite lives at higher elevations and is often found in dead Acacia koa branches and trunks. They can be found high on Tantalus. It is the largest species, and soldiers resemble the lowland termite. Fecal pellets are moist and are compacted in the galleries.

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