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Mastotermes Darwiniensis (Darwin Termite) – Identification & Overview

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This termite is also known as the Darwin Termite.

Structure, Appearance and Characteristics

  • 11-13 mm
  • Short, stout mandibles. Right mandible has two teeth at the tip, the left mandible has one.
  • White or cream-colored bodies
  • Reddish-brown heads, large and rounded, up to 3mm in width
  • Abdomen structure similar to cockroaches
  • 5 segmented tarsi
  • Antennae up to 26 segments

Life Cycle

The queen lays eggs similarly to cockroaches, with the eggs encased, and laying up to 20 eggs at a time. They undergo an incomplete metamorphosis, going through stages of egg, nymph and adult. Nymphs can go through up to seven molts within a three-month period before maturing to adulthood. Nests can range from thousands to millions of termites within a colony depending on their surroundings.

The adults are represented by four different castes.

Queen and king

The queen and king are the primary reproductive caste. They are winged and are the largest in the colony. They can live up to 20 years, with a queen laying multiple, capsuled eggs within a reproductive cycle.


The workers are wingless and blind and cannot reproduce. They are 10-11 mm in size, with a transparent body. They work in large areas, using earthen materials to cover their tracks. The workers build the nests and forage for food.


The soldiers are also known as the giant northern termite, as they are the largest of the different termite species, ranging in size from 11-13 mm. They are cream-colored with large brown heads. Their abdomens look like that of a cockroach, creating the appearance of a cockroach body attached to the head of a termite. The soldiers are sterile, blind, and wingless. Soldiers can live up to two years, and are responsible for protecting the colony from invaders.


The alates are the reproductive caste of the colony. They are larger in size than the workers or soldiers, averaging 35 mm in length. The reproductive caste are the only caste with wings, which are unique to this species in that the wings include an anal lobe, similar to cockroaches.

Their wings are also larger than their bodies, reaching up to 50 mm in length. The alates are brown or black and are the only caste that have eyes. Alates will be sent out from colonies once they reach maturity to create new or sub-colonies, usually swarming between November through March. As they lay multiple eggs, colonies can grow rapidly with the right conditions.


Mastotermes Darwiniensis are found primarily in Northern Australia. They do not like rainforest or dry soil. They are subterranean termites, but they do not build mounds. Instead they like to nest in the trunks or roots of trees. They can also build their nests in tree stumps.

When building underground, they like to be at least 15 cm below ground level. While nests are independent, large colonies can form near each other, with possibilities of millions of termites in a colony within any given area.


This species can use any organic material as a food source, making them particularly dangerous to areas with crops. They will eat any tree, crop, wood source, and even animal dung. They have been known to eat through plastics, leathers, fabrics, and in some cases even concrete, making them very destructive. They are particularly known to eat Eucalyptus and Acacia trees as well as sugarcane crops but will usually avoid ficus and melaleuca.

Destructive Nature

This species is considered one of the most destructive, as they will eat through almost any material. They have been known to cause serious damage to crops, structures, and trees, with an ability to ringbark a tree in a relatively short period of time.

While they are the most destructive, they are limited to Northern Australia, and particularly to the least developed areas, but can create serious damage to homes and food sources when they infest a developed area. Because of their tendency to eat any material, they are also a danger regarding electrical fires as they will eat through wires.

With the ability to produce large colonies, and a foraging range of up to 70 metres, they can damage large areas in a short amount of time if left unchecked. They are the most destructive in the nymph stage of their life cycle.


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