Termites form one-piece nests in wood that can vary in their moisture content and degree of decomposition, and thus microbial richness. To estimate the microbial load of nests and the potential risk they pose for colony members, we quantified the number of microbes in the nest and on the cuticle of the dampwood termite, Zootermopsis angusticollis, and three drywood termites, Incisitermes minor, I. schwarzi, and Cryptotermes cavifrons. The number of colony forming units (CFUs) cultured from nest material samples and washes of the cuticle of larvae and nymphs were determined. CFUs recorded from nest material was low (fewer than 60 CFUs/g) in the drywood termites and comparatively high in the dampwood species, as more than 800 bacterial and fungal CFUs/g were cultured from the nest material of Z. angusticollis. Similarly, cuticular microbial loads were negligible in the drywood termites sampled, ranging from 0.5 to fewer than 16 CFUs/cm2, whereas approximately 200 CFUs/cm2 were cultured from Z. angusticollis. The nesting and feeding habits of these basal species likely influence colony microbial load and the degree of pathogen exposure, which in turn could favor adaptations to resist disease that vary with termite nesting biology.


Originally published in Journal of Insect Science 3:31 (2003). http://insectscience.org/3.31


Isoptera, ecology, pathogen load, social evolution

Subject Categories

Termites - Nests, Termites - Microbiology, Microorganisms - Counting


Entomology | Microbiology


Journal of Insect Science

Publication Date


Rights Holder

Rebeca B. Rosengaus, et al.

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