Cryptotermes – Drywood termites

The drywood termite genus Cryptotermes from the Kalotermitidae family is distributed worldwide, originally from tropical-subtropical regions, but many species are now known to migrate far out of their native home range, via infested furniture and other wood pieces. For example, Cryptotermes cynocephalus native home range is in South East Asia, but has now been confirmed to have spread to Australia and even Hawaii.

This genus has about 30 known species, if I’m not mistaken, but all are distinctive in the appearance of their soldiers, which have short, stub shaped heads, and short mandibles. Since Cryptotermes colonies are small, typically just a few hundred individuals at most, the soldiers only number just a handful in any mature colony.

These are all small termites. The workers have a somewhat larval appearance, and are actually neotenic reproductive adults; probably just kept in check from turning into full fledged fertile kings and queens at a given time, by the circulation of pheromones within the colony. The queen herself does not have the enlarged body typical of most termite queens, and is able to move about the nest, along with the king.

Cryptotermes is usually more common on islands and around coastal areas, or places not very far from the coast, where they seem to prefer the drier climatic conditions. Old houses and furniture here are certainly more at risk, and sometimes, you can observe multiple nests in a single house. This is because in Cryptotermes, winged fertile adults are routinely produced from the pool of pseudergate workers, which will then fly away from their nest to breed. Their pellet shaped droppings or frass are the main indicator of their presence in wood.

cryptotermes cynocephalus

Above – Cryptotermes cynocephalus, workers and flying reproductive.

Cryptotermes pseudergate

Above – A closer view of the “false worker” of Cryptotermes, a pseudergate. Notice the small wing stumps and long body of the worker. This differs from other types of termites.

Cryptotermes soldier

Above – Cryptotermes cynocephalus soldier with its phragmotic head. The soldiers are very few in number, often numbering just several individuals in the entire colony.

Cryptotermes queen

Above – The queen of Cryptotermes cynocephalus. In Cryptotermes, there is very little physogastry (abdominal enlargement).

Cryptotermes swarmer

Above – A winged swarmer of Cryptotermes cynocephalus.

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