Microcerotermes is a genus of termite that often builds distinctive arboreal nests made of carton material, although there are subterranean and mound building species as well. Their nests can be a common sight in coconut plantations, and seen attached to tree trunks in rural areas. There are about 22 species with a worldwide distribution.

They are small termites usually 0.5-0.7 cm long, and the soldiers are distinctive in having a rectangular head and relatively long, curved, mandibles with tiny serrated teeth on the inside half of the mandibles. Although their bite is very weak, in common with many termites, their soldiers usually do not release their mandibles after biting their target, which infers a kamikaze style defense. Interestingly, the soldier proportion to the worker ratio for the Microcerotermes species’ I’ve seen, is low (few soldiers per colony).

They usually feed on dead, fallen wood, and are not considered a threat to urban houses, while being a minor pest in some rural housing. A few species are considered pests in tree plantations and forestry, due to their ability to cause damage to living trees (and high numbers). Fallen and abandoned Microcerotermes nests are a common sight in certain localities; these serving as convenient refuge for many other life forms (like ants, beetles, and cockroaches) to take over.

These termites I collected are probably of Microcerotermes crassus, which is common in many countries of South East Asia, and easily identified by the soldiers having a broad, flattish labrum.

Microcerotermes nest

Above – A typical looking nest of Microcerotermes attached to a post. There are others with more pointed downward spikes.

Microcerotermes nest closeup

Above – The carton nest walls made of excrement are quite soft and easily punctured.

Microcerotermes spp

Above – Microcerotermes spp are common arboreal termites found throughout tropical and subtropical regions of the world.

Microcerotermes workers

Above – Microcerotermes spp workers may be dimorphic (two different sizes) as you can see in the photo.

Microcerotermes soldiers

Above – Microcerotermes soldiers have a distinctive rectangular head and long, inward curved mandibles. These soldiers are probably Microcerotermes crassus.