Mastotermes giant northern termite soldier and workers

Mastotermes darwiniensis or the giant northern termite is renowned for its large size and voracious eating habit. It is the most destructive species, as it can cause significant damage in a short time period. However, it is only confined to specific areas in the tropics.

  • Mastotermes darwiniensis (only species in the genus)
  • Also knowns as the giant northern termite or Darwin termite

Northern regions of Australia. Generally considered endemic north of the Tropic of Capricorn although an introduced population on the Gold Coast has survived and slowly spread over a ten-year period.

Mastotermes nest almost exclusively underground in the root crown of trees, inside or under logs, tree stumps, under piles of timber, under houses etc.


  • Multi-site nester – meaning one colony can nest in multiple locations. They can readily form secondary nests with reproductives, in addition to the primary nest
  • Under natural conditions they form medium sized colonies that can number many thousands of termites. However, in developed or agricultural areas where there is an abundant water source (eg. irrigation) and plentiful food the colonies can become many times bigger

The large size of the termites and associated galleries in damaged timbers plus where they are found makes identification easy. The soldier ranges in length from 11.5 – 13 mm and have a round shaped head with strong mandibles.

  • They have a voracious appetite and cause havoc for building owners, farmers (mango, sugar cane, citrus, grape), electricity suppliers (poles and underground cables), tree growers and councils (trees and palms in parks etc).
  • They are one of the few termites to readily consume healthy wood / trees and are a major pest in some agricultural areas
  • The galleries in timber tend to be very large and relatively clean compared to other species.
  • Mudding tends to be dark grey (depending on soil type) in colour and very grainy. In a matter of months, they can cause extensive damage to timber in service.

Mastotermes is by far the most destructive termite in terms of the amount of damage that can occur in a relatively short period. However being confined to relatively unpopulated areas of Australia, Coptotermes is easily the most economically significant genus in Australia.

  • Stage 1 treatment (curative) – dusting and foaming work well
  • Stage 2 treatment (preventative) – soil applied liquids applied correctly work well

Current baiting products have proved to be ineffective although a recent baiting product has claimed some efficacy against Mastotermes.

  • If the main nest is destroyed, remnant populations can produce neotenics (secondary reproductives) and start a fully functional colony
  • Mastotermes is the most ancient living genus in the world and is the closest termite relative to the cockroaches

Information on other species of termites.

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