Termites in Australia
Termites are an ancient order of insects whose origins date back more than 100 million years to the Cretaceous period. Although they are commonly called ‘white ants’, the resemblance to ants is superficial and they are more closely related to cockroaches and in fact have been recently included into the cockroach order Blattodea.
Termites can be grouped into three basic categories: dampwood, drywood and subterranean. Dampwood termites generally live in damp rotting logs or rot pockets in dead or living trees. Drywood termites obtain water from the wood in which they live and have no contact with the soil, or with any other source of moisture. Subterranean termites are generally ground-dwelling or require contact with the soil or some constant source of moisture and are the main threat posed to timber in the built environment (timber-in-service).
Termites play a prominent part in the recycling of plant nutrients through the disintegration and decomposition of dead wood and plant debris. Their excavations alter the structure of trees and provide spaces which have become a necessary part of the habitat of many vertebrate species including bats, birds, reptiles and arboreal mammals. Many species of termite feed on materials such as grass. Only a handful are of economic importance to timber-in-service.