Everyone in our business is well aware of two main things about termites:
- As structural pests they can cause a great deal of damage, both in terms of the costs of control and of repairing their ravages.
- A small number of species account for most of the damage.
My focus here in on the second of these.
Termites (Isoptera) are a group within the order of cockroaches (Blattaria or Blattodea). A recent tally puts the number of living species in the world at 2976 (Constantino 2020), with 81 known from Trinidad & Tobago, including undescribed species (Scheffrahn et al. 2003). All species are social, living in durable structured groups known as colonies, each with usually one reproductive pair (queen and king), although some colonies may have multiple queens and/or kings. They feed on (usually dead) plant matter, including wood, which is what renders some species a nuisance from our point of view.
Various estimates put the number of significant structural pests among the 3000-some species at 79 (Su, in press), 83 (Su & Scheffrahn 2000) or as high as 104 (Krishna et al. 2013: 133). The latter authors go on to provide a useful list of these species (Table 9), with notes on where they are reported as destructive. And R.H. Scheffrahn (pers. comm.) regards the following as significant in the West Indies: Cryptotermes brevis. C. havilandi, C. dudleyi, Heterotermes spp., Coptotermes gesroi and Nasutitermes corniger.
PMATT Members to Participate in a Collective Research Project
For the purpose of pest management in our corner of the world, this is a good start. However, I would like PMATT to take it a step further. Wouldn’t it be a boon for our members’ training and practice – aside from showing an added measure of leadership in the industry — if we could compile a tally of termites just for our two islands? Don’t you wish we had a reliable quantitative measure of which species are of concern as structural pests and their relative importance? I believe this is perfectly within our members’ capability, and I would like to propose a collective research project to this end.
Procedure for a Collective Research Project
The basic procedure is exceedingly simple. Each and every time (no exceptions) that you receive a call from one of your clients to deal with a termite problem, your responding operators are to
(a) Note the locality and a one-line description of the problem, and
(b) Collect a sample of the termites.
In order to ensure that we can get the most out of the data, each report (a) and its accompanying sample (b) should have a unique index number. There are many ways this can be done, but my suggestion is just to number them in sequence (1, 2, 3, etc.) without complicating it. Of course, if you already have a way of numbering client calls, the easiest way is to stick with that. For present purposes, it doesn’t matter whether records are on paper or in a spreadsheet.
Let me reiterate the importance of making a note and taking a sample from each and every call. It’s quite a simple, easy thing to do, but it’s not exciting, and as the notes and samples accumulate there will be a temptation to let some of them slip, especially as any given call is something your operators have seen many times before. If we are to get a good picture of the termite problem in Trinidad & Tobago, accurate data is needed.
It doesn’t matter whether the termites are dead or alive when collected, or whether there is insecticide on them. In collecting a sample, your staffers should make an effort to include soldiers, as these are much easier to identify. The workers and immatures all look much the same, but soldiers of all of our pest species (as far as I know) have distinctive heads, with a darker head capsule and either sharp, protruding mandibles or a nozzle-like snout. The simplest way to be reasonably sure of including soldiers in a sample is to make it a big sample.
Storage of Samples
As each sample comes in, put it into a sealed container (plastic or glass, whatever you have on hand) with the index number written on a piece of paper inside, and store it in the fridge or (even better) freezer. No need to pickle it in alcohol, as we are not aiming for permanent preservation.
Handing over of Stored Samples
And what do you do when you have a sizeable set of samples and notes (10-15, something like that)? Well, you give them to me for analysis, and then you keep on collecting as you get additional client calls. You have my electronic address and phone number below, and some of you are already used to contacting me. If any of your people want to look over my shoulder while I compile notes and identify specimens, please do.
So, are we in?
Christopher K. Starr
Caura Village, Trinidad; firstname.lastname@example.org; (868) 303-9919
Professor Starr is an Honorary Member of the Pest Management Association of Trinidad and Tobago.
Constantino, R. Termite database. http://220.127.116.11/catal/. Accessed September 2020.
Krishna, K., D.A. Grimaldi, V. Krishna & M.S. Engel 2013. Treatise on the Isoptera of the world. Vol. 1. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 377:1-200.
Scheffrahn RH, Kreček J, Maharajh B, Chase JA, Mangold JR, Starr CK. 2003. Termite fauna (Isoptera) of Trinidad & Tobago, West Indies. Occ. Pap. Dep’t Life Sci., Univ. West Indies (12):33-38. C:/Users/Admin/Documents/PDF/2003-TERMITES.pdf. Modified according to a pers. comm. from R.H. Scheffrahn.
Su, N.Y. In press. Termites as structural pests. In: C.K. Starr (ed.), Encyclopedia of Social Insects. Cham, Switzerland: Springer.
Su, N.Y. & R.H. Scheffrahn 2000. Termites as pests in buildings. Pp. 437-63 in: T. Abe, D.E. Bignell & M. Higashi (eds.), Termites: Evolution, Sociality, Symbioses, Ecology. Dordrecht: Kluwer.