This is the largest family and the most important from an economic point of view in South Africa. There are many species including fungus growers which are responsible for the greatest amount of timber damage in buildings brought about annually by termites. Termites Caste System Termites have a very strict system with different types of termites doing specific tasks.

The Queen

The queen’s only task is to reproduce and is the most important member of the colony. She may live between 25 to 50 years according to the species. She will generally lay enormous amounts of eggs often millions. In some species she may crawl around the nest but in others her abdomen becomes so swollen and distended with her legs that she may not be able to move.

The King

The king lies next to the queen and may also live for numerous years. In some species mating only takes place after the first flight but in others mating will take place at regular intervals.

The Soldiers

The soldiers have only one task which is to protect the colony should it come under attack; they otherwise do nothing else within the colony. They use their strong jaws and in some species chemical warfare to protect the nest. The termites that have the characteristic will produce a long thread of poisonous fluid thrown out from a snout called a fontanelle. If this comes into contact with an ant the ant will immediately stop the attack and may soon die.

The Worker

The worker does all the work in colony which are underdeveloped males and females that do not develop eyes, wings or reproductive organs. The workers groom the queen and place the eggs in the most suitable part of the nest and lick them until they hatch. They predigest pieces of wood to feed the queen, king, soldiers and young. They tunnel through the soil mixing it with their excrement to build the nest.

Substitute Kings and Queens

In each nest there are secondary kings and queens who take the role of the primary king and queen should they be killed. They are kept in reserve in the nest at all times should they be needed. They have short wings, cannot fly and have smaller eyes than those of the primaries. The substitute is needed to ensure the constant survival of the nest.

Termite Lifecycle

The Lifecycle of the Drywood Termite

Formation of a colony

The "flying ants" as they are commonly referred to are the sexual forms. Once they have landed they break off their wings before they mate. The female always takes the lead in finding a new nest which may be a small space under a stone or log where the mating takes place. After a few weeks the female lays a few eggs which she has to tend to herself. Once they hatch, the queen has to feed the nymphs with regurgitated food from her stomach. It takes a while before the nymphs are old enough to start foraging for food to feed themselves, the king and the queen. During the first year the queen may only lay half a dozen eggs.


Termites chew wood with their sharp, hard mandibles (lower jaw)to get to the cellulose. Other species of termites which also eat cellulose will feed on soil rich in humus which comes from the decomposing of other plant matter. Some feed on dry grass but at times living plants. Fungus growers often do considerable damage to vines, fruit trees and rose bushes soon after they are planted. Drywood termites feed on hard, sound wood which is often dry.

Types of Termites

Subterranean Termites

These termites have to be in contact with the soil.  Their nests are at gorund level or just below ground level. These termites usually enter buildings through the foundations and spread by way of joints, floors or wall cavities and damage timbers including flooring, panelling, window and door frames.

The Insidious Fungus Grower

This termite is the most common and destructive species north of the Orange River, Gaunteng, Northern Province, Botswana and KwaZulu Natal. Their nests are often covered by grass and are less than a meter high but may be 1.5meters in diameter. The nest cavity is about a meter below ground level which is made up of clay shelving which is covered by spongy fungus gardens. These termites require damp conditions and feeds on any material containing cellulose, e.g. paper, grass, manure, seasoned timber which can be consumed very quickly.

Natal Fungus Grower (Macrotermes Natalensis)

This is the second most destructive termite of timber and is spread almost as widely as the Insidious Fungus Grower. Workers may destroy the timber under a canopy of clay but it can destroy the timber from the inside. The wood is always replaced by hard clay as it is removed. The nest cavity is nearly spherical and about a meter in diameter. It is divided by a series of shelves made of clay which support large numbers of fungus gardens.

The Funnel Fungus Grower

This termite is slightly smaller than the previous two. It does not build mounds as the previous species but there will be a slight elevation where the soil has been thrown out. It makes shafts of ventilating funnels around its nest which look like miniture cooling towers. There are many sub-chambers in the nests that contain rosette like fungus gardens. They only feed under a clay canopy. Buildings that are infested are usually built over the nests.


Wood-Inhabiting Termites

Cryptotermes Brevis (West Indian Dry-Wood Termite)

This is a domestic type of termite that is quite small and prefers to infest interior wood that is sheltered from the rain. It was brought into Durban from Jamaica in 1918 and by 1947 had become a major destroyer of wood. Infestations are experienced in Natal from Pongola to Port Edward including Pietermaritzburg, Hilton and Galgowan. It attacks all types of wood. They are often found in older parts of a region and in the case of Durban, inhabit the "borer strip". This area stretches from the bluff to glenwood, Musgrave, other areas of Berea and Durban North typically. They are slow destroyers of wood and leave tiny round holes in the infested wood. They drop frass or faecal pellets the size of poppy seeds which differ in colour depending on the wood they inhabit. Flighting season is between September and mid December.


Treatment for termites include fumigation of the affected article under a gas tight sheet, removal and replacement of the infected wood or drill and injections.  For a solution that meets your particular need please contact us.