Coptotermes formosanus

Geographic Range

The Formosan subterranean termite, Coptotermes formosanus is native to China in the Palearctic region, and has since been introduced to many other regions of the world. Coptotermes formosanus was first reported to have been transported to Japan in the 1600’s from the southern fourteen provinces of China, and was later recorded to have infested Hawaii in the late 1800’s. It was then reported around 1950 to have invaded Africa. In 1960 C. formosanus began to appear in the United States and, as of 2010, it is distributed mainly throughout the southeast area of the nation. Most inhabitants are found populating much of Florida, Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, North Carolina, and South Carolina, with a smaller influence in Tennessee. Coptotermes formosanus also inhabits small parts of Hawaii and is isolated in San Diego County of California. (Su and Scheffrahn, 2013)


Coptotermes formosanus lives in nests underground. Its nests are made up of a specialized material it makes itself called carton. When in final form the nest can appear as a typical rocky structure due to the look and texture of carton. They may also be very large in size, housing hundreds of thousands of termites in a single colony. The carton that is used to make up the nests is comprised of soil, chewed wood or plant matter, and the termite's own saliva and fecal matter. Formosan subterranean termites dwell in moist environments and can be found in forests as well as some urban areas. If the moisture levels are not right underground, C. formosanus may build nests above ground in areas where moisture levels are high. More common areas where they can find moisture are on man-made structures such as boats, porches, flat rooftops, or gutters. If there is an area with food for them and plenty of moisture, they will attempt to inhabit that area. Coptotermes formosanus has been known to even thrive in the trunks of trees, both dead and alive, as well as in the walls of homes and buildings. If these termite find the right environment, their colonies will more than likely thrive. (Su, 2006)

Physical Description

Coptotermes formosanus termites have specialized roles in their colonies, typically workers, soldiers, and alates/reproductives. Soldiers are typically described as having an orange-brown oval-shaped head with an off white colored body and black mandibles. Coptotermes formosanus soldiers also possesses a fontanel gland on the front of the head that, when disturbed, secretes a small amount of defensive fluid.

Workers of this species are hard to distinguish from other termite species. These worker termites are generally all off-white with antennas and an anatomy similar to ants.

Coptotermes formosanus reproductives are characterized by their pale yellow color and body length of around 12 to 15 mm. Reproductives are the only caste of termite that have wings. They have four wings with distinct dark veins toward the cranial end, all of which are translucent and lined with small hairs. Fontanelles are also present. (Su and Scheffrahn, 2013; Texas A&M Department of Entomology, 2010)

  • Range length
    15 (high) mm
    0.59 (high) in


After mating has occurred a female finds a moist crevice, typically in wood, to lay her eggs. Mating and fertilization take a few days, after which an average of fifteen to twenty eggs are laid, which then take anywhere between two to four weeks to hatch into young termites. The female and male must take care of this first batch of nymphs. They are cared for until they reach the third instar, where they differentiate into workers, soldiers, or alates. One to two months later, a new generation may begin. This time, the workers from the first batch will take over brood care. ("Coptotermes formosanus", 2014)


For termite species, only the alates are able to reproduce. The alates have wings, and take flight in large swarms outside the nest. Coptotermes formosanus swarms most heavily at dusk during the months of May and June until the months of July and August. Once the termites have flown a short distance, alates fall to the ground and shed their wings. After the wings have been shed, the termites pair off in mating pairs. Each pair finds a small area to mate in, typically in a small hole in wood or in the ground. Each pair will begin a new colony (if they survive), and will become the king and queen of their colony. Mating and fertilization of eggs only takes a few days; once this is complete, the queen is ready to lay her eggs. (Hussender, et al., 2005; Su and Scheffrahn, 2013; Su, 2006)

The initial batch of 15 to 20 eggs that the queen lays will hatch in a few weeks. The king and queen are solely responsible for the care of their first brood. The queen and king continue to mate and the queen lays more eggs, as the first offspring differentiate into their castes. Workers will take over brood care, providing food to the larvae and care to the eggs. The queen will continue to lay eggs throughout her life, causing the colony to swell in size. Once the colony reaches a certain size, or if the queen dies, more reproductives, known as secondary reproductives, may be added upon demand. Three to five years of reproduction may be necessary to create a substantial colony that causes damage. (Su and Scheffrahn, 2013; Su, 2006)

  • Breeding interval
    The king and queen continue to mate throughout their lives.
  • Breeding season
    Queens reproduce throughout the year.

As eusocial insects, there is significant parental care in Coptotermes formosanus colonies. After the initial hatching of eggs in a new colony, the queen and king are responsible for growth and safety of young termites until they mature. As the colony grows, workers are responsible for brood care of the larvae. They tend the eggs and feed the larvae. This care is essential for the survival of the brood to adulthood. (Su, 2006)

  • Parental Investment
  • male parental care
  • female parental care
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female


The queen in the colony of termites can have a lifespan of up to 15 years. Other individuals in the colony, such as workers, likely live for a significantly shorter amount of time. ("Coptotermes formosanus", 2011)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    15 (high) years


The Formosan subterranean termite is successful as an invasive species for two major reasons: they are socially flexible and have a good spatial organization of their colonies. Similar to other termites, C. formosanus begin the growth of their colonies with a king and queen termite pair that mates and produces offspring. The queen lays her first group of eggs in the soil, waits for them to hatch, and then lays her second group of eggs. During their larval stage, the offspring differentiate into castes. As eusocial insects, there is a division of labor within the colony. Offspring grow to be workers, soldiers, or reproductives. Reproductives will leave the colony, find mates, and begin new colonies. Soldiers defend the colony against predators. Workers are responsible for all other tasks, including brood care, maintaining the nest, and foraging for food.

Each colony, in time, expands over an area of approximately 50 meters or more from the original nest. Coptotermes formosanus is also successful as an invasive species due to the huge size of their colonies, containing hundreds of thousands of individuals. Some colonies do get sectioned off from the main colony, known as buds, but often adopt unrelated termites into their bud. Their acceptance of others into the colonies allows for great variation and growth in this species.

Once introduced into a new environment, C. formosanus swarm the land. Because they are weak fliers, they need assistance being spread so they seek out soil and other materials that get transported by humans to other areas. When C. formosanus invade man-made structures, they find entries in cracks, crevices, and holes in which they begin their tunneling. Through these holes they make mud tubes lined with carton. (Hussender, et al., 2005; Su and Scheffrahn, 2013)

Home Range

Coptotermes formosanus can forage up to 300 feet away from the central colonization. (Su and Scheffrahn, 2013)

Communication and Perception

Pheromones are an essential form of communication between C. formosanus individuals. Pheromones are used by alates to attract mates. Termite queens also produce pheromones that aid in keeping the other individuals in the colony functioning and effective. (Jordan and Lax, 2014)

Food Habits

Coptotermes formosanus feeds on wood. When they are not feeding on wood, they may be consuming other products that contain cellulose, such as cardboard and paper. Bacteria live in the digestive system to help break down this cellulose so the termite may digest the food easier. Coptotermes formosanus has a incorrect reputation of also eating other materials such as insulation, thin lead and copper sheets, plaster, asphalt, and some plastics. They attack these materials and can destroy them in the process of building nests, but they do not eat them. (Hu, 2003; Su, 2006)

  • Plant Foods
  • wood, bark, or stems


When alates are swarming, they are particularly vulnerable to predation. General predators of Coptotermes formosanus include ants, lizards, toads, and birds. ("Coptotermes formosanus", 2014)

Ecosystem Roles

As a particularly effective invasive species, especially with such large colonies, Coptotermes formosanus can out-compete native species for habitats and resources, causing a loss of native biodiversity. This species is harmful to trees, both living and dead, by hollowing them out and filling in the space with their nests. By nesting in dead trees, they are aiding in biodegradation. However, since this species is so common in urban and suburban areas, its impact on biodegradation is likely small. ("Coptotermes formosanus", 2014; Su, 2006)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

There are no known positive effects of Coptotermes formosanus on humans.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

The Formosan subterranean termite is infamous for the destruction it can cause to trees, buildings, and wooden structures. It has caused damage worldwide, and is causing more and more damage recently throughout the United States. Household conditions in the United States are perfect shelters for C. formosanus because of their wooden structures and central heating systems, which provide a warm environment for the termites during winter months. Coptotermes formosanus works at a rapid pace when it comes to tunneling throughout homes, causing major damage in just six months and total damage within two years. This species is harmful to trees, too, hollowing them out and filling in the space with their nests. Due to the potential damage C. formosanus can cause, people spend great amounts of money on termiticides and pest controls in order to prevent or stop the termite infestations. United States citizens spend an estimated $1 billion per year trying to prevent them, as well as repairing damages caused by them. (Hu, 2003; Su, 2006)

  • Negative Impacts
  • household pest

Conservation Status

Coptotermes formosanus has no special conservation status. Instead, it is an invasive species in many areas of that world that causes a significant amount of economic damage. (Su, 2006)


Andrew Elbe (author), Grand View University, Kylar McCann (author), Grand View University, Raquel Relph (author), Grand View University, Felicitas Avendano (editor), Grand View University, Dan Chibnall (editor), Grand View University, Angela Miner (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.



living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map


living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map


Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


helps break down and decompose dead plants and/or animals


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


used loosely to describe any group of organisms living together or in close proximity to each other - for example nesting shorebirds that live in large colonies. More specifically refers to a group of organisms in which members act as specialized subunits (a continuous, modular society) - as in clonal organisms.


animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature


the condition in which individuals in a group display each of the following three traits: cooperative care of young; some individuals in the group give up reproduction and specialize in care of young; overlap of at least two generations of life stages capable of contributing to colony labor

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


union of egg and spermatozoan


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


Referring to a burrowing life-style or behavior, specialized for digging or burrowing.


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


having a body temperature that fluctuates with that of the immediate environment; having no mechanism or a poorly developed mechanism for regulating internal body temperature.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body


referring to animal species that have been transported to and established populations in regions outside of their natural range, usually through human action.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

male parental care

parental care is carried out by males


A large change in the shape or structure of an animal that happens as the animal grows. In insects, "incomplete metamorphosis" is when young animals are similar to adults and change gradually into the adult form, and "complete metamorphosis" is when there is a profound change between larval and adult forms. Butterflies have complete metamorphosis, grasshoppers have incomplete metamorphosis.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


chemicals released into air or water that are detected by and responded to by other animals of the same species


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


living in cities and large towns, landscapes dominated by human structures and activity.

year-round breeding

breeding takes place throughout the year


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2014 CABI. 2014. "Coptotermes formosanus" (On-line). Invasive Species Compendium. Accessed March 12, 2014 at

Hu, X. 2003. "Formosan Subterranean Termites" (On-line pdf). Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities. Accessed March 12, 2014 at

Hussender, C., M. Messenger, N. Su, J. Grace, E. Vargo. 2005. Colony Social Organization and Population Genetic Structure of an Introduced Population of Formosan Subterranean Termite from New Orleans, Louisiana. Journal of Economic Entomology, 98/5: 1421-1434.

Jordan, P., A. Lax. 2014. "The Formosan Termite A Formidable Foe!" (On-line). United States Department of Agriculture. Accessed March 12, 2014 at

Su, N. 2006. "Coptotermes formosanus" (On-line). Global Invasive Species Database. Accessed March 12, 2014 at

Su, N., R. Scheffrahn. 1988. Foraging Population and Territory of the Formosan Subterannean Termite (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae) in an Urban Environment. Sociobiology, 14(2): 353-359.

Su, N., R. Scheffrahn. 2013. "Formosan Subterranean Termite" (On-line). Formosan Subterranean Termite. Accessed March 10, 2014 at

Texas A&M Department of Entomology, 2010. "Coptotermes formosanus" (On-line). Texas A&M Agrilife. Accessed March 10, 2014 at