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AUSTRALIAN TERMITE MOUNDS

Would you be able to identify the nest mounds of these Australian termite species?

Researchers have recently discovered that the vast termite mounds that cover the caatinga forests in northeastern Brazil are up to 4000 years old. These mounds, which are actually the excavations from the extensive network of underground tunnels, can be seen from space. Very little is known about this species (Syntermes dirus) as the queen chamber has never been found.

In Australia, many species of subterranean termites do not build visible mounds, but for those that do, they can be a useful identifying feature. Here are six of the most notable species, some belong to pest species of termite that cause significant damage to wood structures and can strike the fear into homeowners, others although look imposing actually belong to grass feeders, and do all their good in the environment.

Cathedral termite (Nasutitermes triodiae)

Cathedral termites, which exist in the Northern Territory, and the northern parts of Queensland and Western Australia, build some of the tallest non-human structures in the world, building mounds up to 8m tall. Impressive as they are, homeowners need not be concerned as cathedral termites are primarily grass feeders.

Cathedral termite mounds are up to 8m tall

Magnetic termite (Amitermes species)

There are actually two species of magnetic termite, Amitermes laurensis and Amitermes meridionalis, both of which are grass feeders. Amitermes meridionalis is found near Darwin in the Northern Territory and Amitermes laurensis is found in northern Queensland. Interestingly south of the town of Laura, after which Amitermes laurensis is named, Amitermes laurensis builds simple conical mounds.

Magnetic termite mounds are aligned in a north/south direction

Coptotermes acinaciformis

Coptomtermes acinaciformis is one of the most widespread of the pest termite species and can cause significant damage. Over much of its range, it builds nests at the base of trees, tree stumps and poles, but in the tropical areas it will build noticeable mounds often over 1.5m high.

A Coptomtermes acinaciformis mound in the Northern Territory

Coptomtermes lacteus

Coptomtermes lacteus is found on the east coast from Rockhampton down to eastern and central Victoria (but not in the Sydney basin). It can build mounds up to 2m tall with hard clay walls.

This Coptomtermes lacteus mound was found in the Southern Highlands of NSW

Nasutitermes exitiosus

Nasutitermes exitiosus build low dome-shaped mounds in the eucalypt forests across NSW, ACT and VIC, as well as southern QLD. They can be up to 75cm tall and with a diameter of over a metre.

A Nasutitermes exitiosus nest in the Blue Mountains

Nasutitermes walkeri

Nasutitermes walkeri is a minor pest species and constructs its nests on the trunk of trees, in a fork or on a main branch. The outer casing is easily broken. This species is found from Sydney up to Cairns. These nests can sometimes be confused with Microcerotermes turneri nests which can be found on the top of posts and are similarly brittle. They are also found in a similar range on the east coast, from Port Macquarie to Townsville. Image below of an arboreal nest found on a walk near Byron Bay, NSW.

Nasutitermes walkeri arboreal nests are still connected to the ground

More termite information