♦ Prorhinotermes in captivity


This article is my second piece about keeping such interesting creatures as termites are. And it´s also little basic introduction into termite keeping, which is very complex and little known part of eusocial insect hobby. Captive termite colonies do thrive best when are just left undisturbed for months to years in well tuned enviroment provided by us. Prorhinotermes simplex is easy-to-care termite species which produce small colonies (in terms of termite world). I can higly recomend them to other hobbyists ?

Species: Prorhinotermes simplex (Isoptera→Rhinotermitidae→Prorhinotermes).

Genus Prorhinotermes consists of 20 species with highest density of species found in SE Asia. There are 3 species occupying Carribean/ New world region, ranging from SE Florida to Puerto Rico. Prorhinotermes simplex is not significant pest when it goes to human wooden structures and thus this species don´t have any, or just minor pest status in general. As intermediate-type nester, a colony of Prorhinotermes usually occupies one piece of moist wood mass which may be connected with other sources via underground galleries.

Swampy nesting: Colony settled in sufficient ammount of wood may not spread further if it´s not unnecesarry. In case of disaster, there is always a posibility to save their colony by replacing true reproductives with neotenics (read below). In their original habitat, P. simplex nests in dead laying logs and stumps which are found in highly humid soil of shores and swamps. Their nests can even occasionaly become fully submerged in water during different natural calamities and Prorhinotermes simplex are very well adapted to this! Field observations showed that their colonies can survive floods without any problem and termites can survive 1 week underwater. After the water level drops down, termite colony will come back to normal live within 1-2 days! Termites can withstand highier CO2 concentrations.

Ecological groups: Depending on their ecology, termites have been devided into few ecological groups based on their nesting and nutrition prefferences. Species which are easiest for keeping in captivity usually belongs under one-piece type (Kalotermitidae) and intermedie-type (Rhinotermitidae) nesters. Patterns , like is presence of pseudergates within a colony, are usually tied up with these two mentioned strategies. Pseudergates, as can be seen in Kalotermitidae particulary (check my previous article about Neotermes→ https://www.polistes.sk/anima/termity/neotermes-sp-breeding/) are working caste of individuals with capability to moult into false reproductive specimens (neotenic) or into nymphs and prealates (stadium before imago).

Colonies: Colonies of Prorhinotermes simplex and P. cannalifrons usually consists of several thousand workers. Prorhinotermes are medium to small-sized termites. As usuall, there are three primary castes of both sexes found within the nest of this eusocial insect. Winged adults/ imagoes are so called alates. Their wingspan is 8,5-10,5mm and they develop from stadium of nymphs/ prealates. Dealated reproductives are king and queen (royal pair). They mate together periodicaly and both are reddish brown, 5-7mm in their body lenght. Soldiers are about 3,5-4,5mm long and have massive have with strong jaws (as usuall ?). They can be mistaken for Coptotermes sp. soldiers. Workers of this species are temporary ,,non-true workers“ called pseudergates. Prorhinotermes, as said, is a small species, so it´s workers range from 3 to 5mm lenght with pale white round-shaped head. Their main labor is to provide food care and shelter to royal pair, dependent castes of larvae and other members of colony in general. Nuptial flights of alates usually takes place from September to February and were observed in laboratory conditions mainly about November.

Young colony of P. simplex (2020)

Termitarium: ,,Termitarium“ used for keeping this little cryptic fellas depends on personal preference of their breeder. To be honest, you don´t have much options to choose anyway and termites are doing their best when undisturbed for as long period of time as is possible. If you want to observe your termites, you have to keep your colony in thin transparent display (planar nest, petri dish) but somethimes at the cost of less stabile parameters. This means that termites could run out of wood more quickly and adding new wood mass may be stressful to the colony. Covering the top of these displays with transparent red foil (ask for it at any stationary store) can avoid disturbing termites, thus allow observations. I would recomend displays for Kalotermitidae, tribe which is characterised by smaller colonies. When it comes to Rhinotermitidae like Reticulitermes or Prorhinotermes, these displays can be used for fragments not bigger than several hundreds of termites and for young colonies.

Container: Basins for subterranean termites have to be equiped very simply. Most adviced is 0,5-10L aquarium/ plastic container. For already developed Prorhinotermes colony, you can use 0,5-2L aquarium or food container with transparent walls. On the bottom goes 2cm layer of fine river sand and moistened wood. On the top goes perfectly fitting lid or glass plate which have to cover 100% of ceiling, leaving just 1mm wide gap as air ventilation. If you want help your colony with dwelling new tunnels, you can add 1-2dcl of sterilised soil from garden. It´s very good to sterilise all used materials or hold them in clean conditions to prevent moulding, especially if the basin is newly founded (will be described below↓).

(Opened) container with 10 year old colony of P. canalifrons (in smaller box), level of 1-2cm rain water and half decaying birch (Betula sp) branch and chips (2020)

Parameters: A key to keep healthy termite colony is to provide ,,fine tuned conditions“. These can be characterised as- proper type and structural state of wood, optimal temperature and humidity range, stationary non flowing air, any vibrations and total darkness. By my experience, Kalotermitidae in comparance  with Rhinotermitidae are slowlier in adaptability if any changes in these conditions occurs. Our admittances into well-settled microclimate of termite enclosure should be limited just within adding new wood and moisturing. According to a colony size, this may happen just once in 3 to 9 months interval. Termites happily inhabiting their enclosure don´t need much care and attention at all! For example mentioned air circulation provided by 1mm gap between glass is really enough! Optimal humidity of whole enviroment is 80-95%. For moistening, pure rain or distilled watter is the adviced (prevent using tap water). Moisturing depends on RH of the outer space. For stability of air and it´s RH, I can advice you to keep your display or container (whatever you use) in bigger plastic box with moist perlite/ vermilucite. Prorhinotermes in captivity thrive best in well closed containers filled with moist rotting wood and wet musty damp air. Optimal temperature for P. simplex is like for any other tropical species- TD= 24-27°C and TN= 22-24°C. Night drop is just optional, but good for colony developement.

Nutrition: Wood offered to termites must have proper qualities. It must be already dead, dry and solid (if not specified among species). For you as a keeper, this means that the wood have to be harvested in some time advance, stored and dried safely and finally chopped to fine usable size. Usable size means 5x10cm blocks or 4-10mm thin plates. Damp-wood and subterranean termites preffers dead solid wood with some moisture in it (depends on species). Rhinotermitidae and Kalotermitidae in culture can be fed by both, deciduos and coniferous woods. Coniferous wood can not contain any resin! Prorhinotermes colonies in captivity thrive mostly on spruce. Spruce Picea abies was shown to be best wood for P. simplex, P. cannalifrons and Betula pendula wood for P. inopinatus. Both, spruce and birch wood works very well! Variety of fruit woods (Malus, Prunus, Pyrus), pine (Pinus) and poplar (Populus) are used too. It may look wierd, but all termites do not need any additional food nor protein! Mentioned species live just from wood.

Major of P. canalifrons (2020)

Moulds: Along with mites (Acarina), moulds represent the worst stress and pathogenic factor for every termite colony in closed enviroment. Healthy and well developed colony of subterraenean can overcome some ammount of moulds in their enviroment but of course their imunity is always limited to some point (amount of fungi). Termite colony will infest the wood with their specific own microflora, which will turn the wood color into darker shade. But this take it´s own time. Common scenario is that fallen wood harvested under trees is full of mould/ fungi spores and not every termite keeper have acces to already dried wood and is forced to use this wood. It´s common process, but after using it in a new container, this wood will easily get mould growing on it. You can prevent this by making new container in advance of several weeks and puting some springtails (Collembola- Folsomia candida) into it. You can also moisten and then dry the wood quickly. This process, if done repeatedly, may germinate the spores and suddenly dry conditions will kill all semideveloped fungi stadiums. You can also obtain wood from nature. Store it and let it dry (which takes 2-3 years!) in clean indoor conditions. Getting your own wood directly from a healthy tree during the winter is best prevention of all moulds. But best way is asking for some wood at your local carpenter´s workshop or your friends. It´s much easier than getting and drying wood from nature!

Prorhinotermes canalifrons (2017)


Young colony of P. simplex (2017)

Filip Repta, 10.08.´18


Copyright Myre 2010-2018