What Bug Is That? The guide to Australian insect families.

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M. darwiniensis occurs widely in the tropical areas of Queensland, N.T. and W.A. It is not a mound-builder, and normally nests in the boles of trees, in logs or stumps, or underground. Mature colonies are headed by numerous apterous neotenics, and no physogastric reproductives are known (Watson and Abbey 1989). In undisturbed conditions the colonies are usually small but, following disturbance that substantially augments food supply (and, perhaps, reduces competition), such as clearing for plantation or settlement, their size can increase rapidly to well in excess of a million individuals. This opportunism, unusual in termites, depends on the ready availability of neotenics. M. darwiniensis is very destructive and, in addition to its severe and often rapid attacks on structural timber of all kinds, it causes serious damage to living trees and crop plants, and to many synthetic materials.


This family is represented by the relict species, Mastotermes darwiniensis , which was confined to tropical Australia, but is now established in New Guinea. It is the only living member of the family, and presents many primitive characters. The tarsi are 5-segmented in all castes. The alate, which is the largest of all the Australian termites, has 29-32-segmented antennae, large eyes and ocelli, and reticulate wing venation; the hind wings lack the basal suture, but have a distinct anal lobe, both blattoid characters. Mandibular dentition is, however, simpler than in Blattodea, Termopsidae or Rhinotermitidae, resembling that in Kalotermitidae. The soldiers have 20-26-segmented antennae and, in mature colonies, short, stout mandibles. In both alates and soldiers, the fore tibiae have 3, and the mid and hind tibiae 4 apical spurs. Eggs are laid in pods, probably homologous with the oothecae of Blattodea; this method of oviposition is found nowhere else in the Isoptera.

  • Mastotermes darwiniensis

  • Mastotermes darwiniensis (giant northern termite) showing worker and soldier castes.

  • Mastotermes sp .