Termites are the main insects which destroy wood, especially on the south of United States and Hawaii. According to some researches, three times more houses are damaged by termites than by fire. So, they are really dangerous creatures.
The termite damages are very expensive, about $1 billion. For example, In North Carolina the most serious termite problems are caused by subterranean termites. Knowing more about termites’ life and termite colony structure will help you to protect your house from these harmful insects.
Termites are very interesting insects. You may be really surprised with their sociability. Unlike some other insects and animals they live in organized colonies. The termite colony size can be different, starting from only two insects (a king and a queen) to more than a million creatures.
You remember from history lessons that there are some castes in India. People have different roles in society and complete different jobs. The same is with termites. In their colony you can meet the following castes: a king and a queen, immature termites, workers, soldiers, nymphs and reproductives. All representatives of such castes differ by physical characteristics.
Life Cycle and Habits
The life cycle of termites looks like this.
- A queen lays thousands of eggs a year.
- Working termites look after these eggs during their incubation period, lasting for 2 weeks.
- The new-born nymphs are fed by workers.
- After the new nymphs molt, they are becoming new members of the working caste, and start to be part of workers, soldiers, or reproductives castes.
These insects can have really large colonies, and about 10 colonies may live on one acre. Mature colonies could have 200,000 to 2,000,000 workers and even more.
A termite colony becomes mature in 3-6 years, during this time the swarmers appear. They leave their colonies through so called “swarm castles”. Swarmers do not fly well, so they are able to mice only some meters from the emergence spot. Surging swarmers burrow into ground and become kings and queens.
Workers need very humid conditions to survive. Unlike ants, they can’t live in open areas. Termites carry soil above the ground where they construct mud tubes onto surfaces and into the wood where they are feeding to maintain a high relative humidity and to protect them from predators as they forage. Termites are able to move their colony up and down in the soil to find the best temperatures and moisture.
Let’s meet up with various termite castes and see what are their roles and responsibilities.
Termite colonies: facts in the video:
Usually termite workers are wingless and soft-bodied. They represent the largest cast in termite societies. If you find out some infested wood, mostly the workers will be there.
So, they are the most destructive in the colony. The workers are white. They navigate with the help of antennae not eyes: worker termites are blind creatures.
The main job of workers is to bring food, look after eggs and nymphs, feed and groom nest mates. They are also taking care of the colony building. Workers construct tunnels and galleries for their colony. The building material of subterranean termites is mixture of mud, saliva and feces.
The name of the cast speaks for itself. As real soldiers these termites protect their colony. They are much bigger than other insects. The representatives of this caste are pale yellow-brown. Soldiers can have darker heads and larger mandibles than workers. They also have enlarged jaws and are not able to feed themselves. Workers feed the soldiers.
The aim of soldiers is to guard the termite colony and defend it against enemies. Termite colony can attack other colonies, but the most dangerous enemy is ant.
Reproductive termites are an important part of every colony. Young reproductive termites also called alates are black and have wings.
When humidity level and moisture outside is correct, termite reproductives start their mailing swarms. Afterwards they land and shed the wings. These insects are going to form new colonies, in which they will be kings and queens.
The queen is the main personality in the termite colony. She is several times bigger than workers. The main and really important queen’s function is to lay eggs. Sometimes she can lay even thousands a day. In some colonies exact termites are able to replace queens and kings in case they die.
Egg laying is not the only responsibility of a queen. She also controls the size of the colony, responsible for makeup and division of labor between the colony members.
Queen termites possess an ability to suppress the development of other queens with pheromones which are associated with their presence.
When the termite colony grows bigger the queen can decide to allow some termite nymphs to develop as supplemental queens. This act would give the colony more eggs and more new members.
As far as the queen starts laying eggs her abdomen enlarges many times. During this time she becomes nearly immobile and needs care. Workers care for the queen and feed her, and she turns into a real egg-laying machine.
3 or 5 years later after the colony’s appearance the queen usually allows nymphs to turn into alates. They swarm out of their nest and try to start new colonies.
A great number of termites, from some hundreds to some thousands swarm from the nest, but not all the attempts are successful.
How can we stop termite queens? Firstly, we need to know their behavior and habits. Termites are a real society with their own rule. So, if you want to get rid of them, consult the specialists.
As far as the colony has a queen there should be a king. But this social role in termite society is not understood properly. Even scientists do not pay much attention to kings. Why?
Well, kings are male termites which are important in the evolution of a colony. They are created in the colony by means of nymph evolution into slates. A male and a female termite start a new colony and produce a great number of termites.
The new branch
Some termite colonies are formed by division of an already existing one. The new colony develops rapidly and independently.
How long can termites live?
During their lives termites face up a lot of difficulties and enemies, so they are perfect survivors. According to researches, a termite queen can live up to several decades if climate conditions are fine. Soldiers and workers have shorter lives, about 1-2 years.
A termite colony can persist as long as the primary queen is alive and even longer. By the queen’s death the colony may get a great territory. For example, subterranean termites with their colonies about a million spices can cause an extensive wood damage. Scientists use DNA analyses, which help to map out the size and area of termite colony. They found out that in some area there can be 20 colonies per acre. In this case, if even a primary queen dies, other reproductive termites and other queens will reproduce more insects.
And what about food? Can termites starve for a long time? According to the scientists’ researches termites can survive just a few days without water and about two weeks without food. Different spices may need various amounts of water. So, dampwood termites get water from the wood and need much moisture. Subterranean termites get water from the soil. They need a source of water not far from their colony. Drywood termites need just a bit of water, which can be got metabolizing the wood they eat.
Termites eat a number of various things: cellulose materials including wood, plants, carpet, insulation, cardboard, sheetrock paper, fabric and animal feces. They can’t digest cellulose without the help of protozoa and bacteria in the digestive tracts.
Final words about termite hierarchy
As we see termite colonies have strong social hierarchy which is really looks like human society. These insects live their lives according to strict conduct codes and ready to sacrifice themselves for their colony.
Termites are a real army that goes to common purpose and goal together. Such armies consist of several levels. The governing members are a queen and a king as her sidekick. Big guys who help to govern the termite society and protect other insects are soldiers.
The workers as it is supposed to be, are really handy in the society. They form the largest caste in termite colonies, do all the dirty works and look after the babies.
The battle with such organized army is not an easy deal, but you need to start it if you want to save your house and furniture. Knowing the basics about termite hierarchy will certainly help you. Good luck!