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PESTS AND DISEASES OF FORESTRY IN NEW ZEALAND

West Indian drywood termite, Cryptotermes brevis

The West Indian drywood termite Cryptotermes brevis is internationally regarded as one of the most damaging drywood termites. It feeds on dry wood and as such, poses a significant threat to timber framed homes and milled, untreated timber. Although its natural spread is slow, it can infest small wooden items which are easily transported long distances by people.

Cryptotermes brevis: Programme to eradicate West Indian drywood termite in Waikanae

MAF is undertaking a work programme (as of October 2011) to eliminate this termite from the single property on the Kapiti Coast. The programme involves fumigation of the affected house and a ten year surveillance programme in the immediate neighbourhood to ensure the fumigation has been successful and confirm that the termite has been eradicated from New Zealand.

The West Indian drywood termite is a wood boring insect. It is classed as an unwanted pest organism in New Zealand. A small population of this termite has been detected in a single house in the Kapiti Coast area north of Wellington.

MAF is undertaking a work programme (as of October 2011) to eliminate this termite from the single property on the Kapiti Coast. The programme involves fumigation of the affected house and a ten year surveillance programme in the immediate neighbourhood to ensure the fumigation has been successful and confirm that the termite has been eradicated from New Zealand.

The termite is widespread throughout all non-Asian tropical and subtropical areas including America, the Caribbean, Australia, the Pacific and Africa. It is native to desert areas of South America. While it cannot survive outdoors in cooler climates, such as New Zealand, it can survive within buildings and other covered dry wooden materials.

It lives in colonies within dry wood, obtaining its nutrients and water from wood fibres. It will attack a range of timbers, requires very little moisture for survival, and multiple colonies can infest a single piece of suitable wood. These factors mean the termite is easily transported by humans in furniture and other infested wooden items such as wooden ornaments and picture frames.

Description

Because the West Indian drywood termite lives in colonies inside wooden structures or objects, the termites themselves are not commonly visible.

The most obvious sign of an infestation is small piles of droppings (known as frass) which the termites push out of tiny holes in the wood surface. The pellets are around one to two mm long and accumulate in piles directly beneath the holes. They vary in colour from cream to red to black.

The termite also has a flying or swarming stage in its life cycle where winged termites (known as alates) leave a full colony and travel in search of mates to start new colonies. They fly in warmer weather – mostly late summer. These alates are visible.

Alates have two pair of transparent wings that are about equal in size and shape, have three or four darkened and enlarged veins and are about 9mm long. The bodies of these alates are medium brown and are about 11 mm in length.

Like ants and bees, termite colonies have a social structure with a king and queen, workers and soldiers.

The termite workers that remain within the host wood are about 4-5mm long and white in colour. Workers chew through wood to feed themselves and others in the colony.

Soldiers also stay within the colony and are similar in size but have a dark coloured, plug-like head that is deeply wrinkled and about 1.2 to 1.4mm wide.

The West Indian drywood termite is internationally regarded as one of the most damaging drywood termites. It feeds on dry wood and as such, poses a significant threat to timber framed homes and milled, untreated timber. Although its natural spread is slow, it can infest small wooden items which are easily transported long distances by people.

It is unlikely to have any impact on native trees or vegetation and has no effects on human health. It does not carry or spread disease to humans or other animals.

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