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Giant northern termite

Scientific Name
Mastotermes darwiniensis
Scientific Author
(Isoptera: Mastotermitidae)
Native Australian Pest Species
Native Australian Pest Species

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Diagnostic Images

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Diagnostic Images (10)
Other Images (2)
Diagnostic Notes

Tarsi five-segmented in all castes.

Imago: large eyes and ocelli; reticulate wing venation; unique among termites in having an anal lobe on each hind wing. Imago/worker mandibles as depicted in.

Soldier: large, may be 13mm or more in length; broad, rounded heads that range in colour from yellow to reddish-brown; short, black mandibles, each with a single tooth on the interior margin; antennae of 20-26 segments.

M. darwiniensis occurs across Australia north of the Tropic of Capricorn. Within its range however, its distribution is irregular e.g. it does not occur in areas of cracking-clay soils or in rain forests. M. darwiniensis is native to Australia but now is also established in parts of New Guinea.

This termite doesn’t build mounds. Subterranean galleries are usually from 15-30cm below the surface but have been detected at depths of up to four meters. Some galleries exceed 100 meters in length. Nest sizes range from several thousands (extra-mural) to several millions in built-up areas. It is occasionally found in the nests of other species of subterranean termites.

This termite is by far the most destructive termite in Australia. Fortunately, its powers to demonstrate this ability are limited because it is restricted to an area of relatively sparse settlement: nevertheless, M. darwiniensis has caused more economic loss than any other insect in the northern half of the continent. They are known to feed on/destroy all kinds of timber structures, fences, poles, wharves, railway sleepers, plastics, lead sheathing around electric cables and lead water-pipes, bitumen, concrete, paper, bone, ivory, horn, leather, hides, ebonite, asbestos, jute, cotton and other vegetable fibre, silk, woollen fabrics, stored grass hay, sugar, bagged pickling salt and flour. Accumulations of human excreta and the dung of herbivorous animals are also invaded by these termites. They eat, destroy or damage a range of trees - native (including Eucalyptus spp. and Acacia spp.) and introduced - in forests, plantations, orchards or gardens. In addition, these termites damage citrus, soursop, pineapple, vines, cassava, banana, paw-paw, melons, pumpkin, carrot, potato, tomato, sugarcane and many kinds of shade and ornamental plants. M. darwiniensis do not appear to attack Ficus spp., Melaleuca spp., Callitris spp, Alstonia verticallosa, Brachychiton spp, Erythrina verspetilio and the introduced Brazilian rubber and tamarind.

More Information
Specimen Contact
Museum Victoria
Walker, K.
26/10/2006 05:05 AEST
Last Updated
29/11/2021 15:56 AEST
Walker, K. (2006) Giant northern termite (Mastotermes darwiniensis) Updated on 11/29/2021 3:56:27 PM Available online: PaDIL -
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Free for use under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0)