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
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