Australian subterranean termite

Coptotermes acinaciformis

Australian subterranean termite Photo credit: MPI IDCR PHEL

Australian subterranean termite Photo credit: MPI IDCR PHEL

Legal Status: Notifiable Organism
Status in New Zealand: Investigating
Organism: Insects, worms and other land invertebrates

If you suspect you have found this pest call 0800 80 99 66.

You can also contact MPI to report a suspicious find by emailing: termites@mpi.govt.nz

Description

The Australian subterranean termite is similar in appearance to a white ant about 4-7mm in size but without the typical small ant ‘waist’.

This pest lives in colonies that have a social structure similar to ants with several castes, namely king, queen, workers, soldiers and (at particular times of the year – usually November to February) alates (flying reproductive termites).

The body length of the alate is about 7.5mm long. They have two sets of slightly brownish wings. At rest the wings lie flat and are about 11.5mm long.

alates light brown on top, yellow underside with long transparent wings
Winged termites (alates) Photo Credit: IDCR PHEL

There are three species of native New Zealand termite and three species of exotic (introduced) termites that have established here that look similar to the Australian subterranean termite.

New Zealand native termites are generally not considered significant pests. They are usually found in rotting timber, tree stumps, or dead and living trees. They may also be found in firewood and timbers. The most common New Zealand termite is the native drywood termite, and this species will infest dead and living trees, and will attack untreated timber, including house timbers.

Australian subterranean termites are found in trees and timber including buildings and furniture.

Identification of termites requires specialist skill and should not be attempted. If you suspect you have found termites, call MPI.

Impact

This pest can cause significant damage to wood in any form, including homes, furniture, fences and trees.

Spread

Australian subterranean termites are thought to have arrived in New Zealand inside telephone poles, railway sleepers and wooden packaging from Australia in the 1990s. The termites then spread to other parts of the country when people moved these risk goods to other areas. The termites can also spread short distances during their flight period.

Subsequent changes to timber importing requirements have now reduced the risk of such incursions.

Management

MPI has an effective eradication programme for Australian subterranean termite infestations. Bait stations are set out containing a specific insecticide which is not harmful to humans, other animals (including household pets) or birds. These bait stations are monitored until there is confidence the colony has been killed, at which time ‘elimination’ is declared. This can take several months to a year or more, depending on the size of the colony, disturbance of feeding activity and the time of year the termites were detected. Post-elimination surveillance continues until there has been no termite activity detected for five years, after which ’eradication’ is officially declared.

We encourage people to report suspect infestations of Australian subterranean termites as soon as they are detected. Early detection reduces the risk of spread and cost of eradication.

Should you find insects similar to those in the photos, please call the MPI Exotic Pest and Disease Hotline as soon as possible on 0800 80 99 66.

Incursion Locations

Eradication achieved

Otorohanga 1999 – In 1999 eight homes in the Otorohanga area were found to be infested with termites. An extensive eradication campaign was carried out, and in May 2005 the termites were declared eradicated.

Otorohanga Incursion response Link to PDF document (328 KB)

Richmond 2006 – In January 2006 Australian subterranean termites were found at a property in Richmond, Nelson. An investigation determined they most likely arrived with railway sleepers brought over from Australia in the mid 1990s, which were used for landscaping. The live termites were eliminated by February 2007. The project then switched to a monitoring phase. This incursion was declared eradicated in 2011.

North Auckland 2007 – In January 2007, termite damage and activity was detected in the wall of a North Auckland dwelling, followed a few days later by winged reproductives (alates) swarming out of a nearby planter box constructed of Australian railway sleepers. After treatment and post-elimination surveillance, this incursion was declared eradicated in 2012.

Eradication in progress

Nelson 2009 – Winged reproductive termites (alates) were found flying inside a poolhouse of a Nelson property. Investigation determined they had emerged from an exposed beam and around door frames. Australian railway sleepers had been extensively used for landscaping on this property in 1995. An eradication programme using bait stations was implemented and no termite activity has been detected since March 2010. Elimination has been declared and a post-elimination surveillance programme has commenced. All residential properties and buildings within 100m and all undeveloped land within 400m of the infested property are inspected annually. The infestation will be declared eradicated in 2016 provided no further termites are detected at the site. 

Pukekohe 2010 – In November 2010, Australian subterranean termites were detected in a house and railway sleepers at a rural residential property near Pukekohe, south Auckland. The likely source of the infestation is imported railway sleepers which were used for landscaping. Effective and well-proven methods of eradicating colonies of this termite species that have been developed for New Zealand are being used for the current infestation. Initial treatment was done, and then a delimiting survey was carried out within a 500m buffer area around the infested property which did not detect any further infestations. Elimination was declared in November 2011 and the infestation will be declared eradicated in 2016 provided no further termites are found at the site.

Point Wells 2012 – In January 2012, Australian subterranean termite alates were observed emerging inside a residential house. Extensive use was made of recycled hard wood timbers in the house and garden, including railway sleepers as garden edging. The railway sleepers are likely the origin of this infestation. Elimination was declared in October 2013. The infestation site will be monitored for several years and the infestation will be declared eradicated in 2018 if no further termites are found at the site.

Drury 2012 – In November 2012, Australian subterranean termites were detected in a damaged wall of a house.  Further termite detections were made in railway sleepers used as landscaping material. Elimination was declared in December 2013. Surveying will continue on a quarterly basis until eradication is declared, which could be in 2018 unless further termites are found at the site.

Mangere 2013 – In September 2013, live Australian subterranean termites were found inside the wall of a factory in Mangere. Further investigation of the area found termites in trees and tree stumps as well as in railway sleepers used as a garden retaining wall at a nearby commercial property. Elimination was declared in December 2014. Surveying will continue on a quarterly basis until eradication is declared, which could be in 2019 unless further termites are found at the site.

Walton 2013 – In September 2013, termites were found infesting a home and garage in Walton. Elimination was declared in December 2014. Surveying will continue on a quarterly basis until eradication is declared, which could be in 2019 unless further termites are found at the site.

Omaha 2014 – In September 2014 several properties were found to be infested with termites. This response is in the pre-elimination stage and it is too early to know when eradication will be achieved.

Resources

Australian subterranean termite brochure February 2013 (offsite link to mpi.govt.nz)

Media Releases

Page last updated: 12 November 2015