Soldier and worker termites: what are the differences and what is the size of them? What do soldiers in the colony and why do they bite, explode?


You may think that insects live chaotically without following any special rules. Surprisingly, some of them have well-organized societies with social roles. So, termites have a clear cast system, including a queen and a king, workers, soldiers, eggs and young reproductive insects.

Every caste is responsible for their own special duties. Soldiers have the same duties as in human society; they protect their colony and the main termite, the queen. Termite soldiers use a number of techniques and weapons against their enemies. In article you can see full characteristics of soldier termites.

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Photo2How can you distinguish the soldier termite? They resemble worker termites in some areas. So, both of them have pale reddish-brown or white rounded bodies. Anyway, termite workers and soldiers is really different.
They are bigger than other insects, have heads which are darker or a different color than the bodies and possess protruding jaws or snouts.

The main aim of soldier termites is to protect their colony from enemies (which are mostly ants). That’s why they possess protruding jaws and big armored heads that are usually brown, red, orange or yellow. In some species soldiers have snouts instead their jaws, in which they squirt a repellent liquid at enemies. It’s interesting that soldiers may be both male and female termites.

Soldiers help to distinguish termite species. All the other colony members, kings, queens and workers, look the same. But soldiers differ a lot.

They have mandibles of different shapes. Their heads are also different in shapes and sizes.
And there are more characteristics, which help to distinguish soldier termites of different species. That’s really handy for scientists.

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Soldiers in the colony

The termite soldiers make up about 1-10% of any given colony’s termite population.

All ants are able to fight, but termites have special caste for this purpose. Worker termites can’t fight, their duty is to do lots of jobs around the house like looking after the queen and her eggs, feeding the queen and so on. The queen and the king are not supposed to fight either, because they are too precious to the termite colony.

Photo10In every colony there are about three times more workers than soldiers, because in the nest there are much more jobs around the house than to protet.

If there is a breach in the tunnels or walls of the nest, soldiers head to it immediately and block the gap, sometimes by forming a phalanx.

Sometimes soldiers also rattle the heads against the ground to show the other insects that the danger is near. Such sound is quite elaborate, it remains synchronized crescendo.

If the termite colony is large enough there are two types of soldiers in it, big and small. The large or major soldiers are quite slow, so they defend the colony where the real strength is needed.

Small or minor soldiers usually direct the worker’s traffic and defend their nest from small ants, which are difficult to deal with for big soldiers. As far as soldiers have elongated jaws they can’t feed themselves. Workers feed not only the queen and the king, but also soldiers.

Learn more about subterranean termites: signs of their activity; best methods of treatment and DIY methods. Eastern subterranean termites and their tunnels and tubes with photo.

Colony protection

In some termite species soldiers are able not only to bite their enemies but to release a fluid from the stomachs during biting as well. This fluid is a white sticky liquid which termites release from their gullet. This process depletes them of energy a lot. Soldiers don’t usually release their grip after biting. If they release it, they become really weak and can even die, if workers do not care properly for them.

Some soldier termites even “pop” themselves in order to release sticky liquid after biting the enemies.
Termites are very smart insects and know how to use various defensive methods.

Some soldiers use passive defense, which is blocking the tunnels with the help of their heads. Such defense has a special name, phragmosis. The termites use their heads for plugging up tunnels. If one termite soldier falls down, his place is taken by another one.

Termites are qualified professionals in using pheromones and chemicals.

Some species squirt either a repellent or sticky liquid from a snout on their heads, which is so unpleasant for ants.

The others are so wise that they can even determine the threat level of various species with the help of smell. Some ants that have “friendly” chemicals won’t fight. The positive thing about this is that ants and termites are able to co-exist together and avoid fighting. The methods of chemical defense are really effective, because ants try to avoid these termites.

If a human walks near a termite colony the first termites he sees are soldiers. They are guarding the colony and ready to fight any intruder, if it is even you or scientists. Every stranger is an enemy.

Here you can learn more information about effective treatment method called tenting (fumigation): dangers for termites, preparing for fumigation and cleaning after, how long does this procedure last?


Let’s watch video: termite soldier vs ant.

Why soldier termites explode and what does it mean?

Photo7The older soldiers in some termite species develop for long time blue pouches that are able to explode and damage the colony’s enemies. The termites who explode die themselves as well. That’s altruistic sign – to die for their colony at the end of their life.

These pouches grow during the termite’s full life; get filled with blue crystals, which are secreted by termites’ glands. The older the soldier is the more toxic is his backpack.

In some termite species soldiers just fight the enemies simply defecating on them from distance.

A reaction is able to make this defensive chemical more toxic. The pouches hold blue crystals containing copper which are situated next to the salivary glands. The moment ants or other predators attack the termites, their bites cause the burst of swollen pouches and the crystals mix with salivary secretions, producing the toxic blue liquid.

Soldier termites in house

Soldiers are their colony’s defenders. They don’t collect cellulose which is the termites’ food and do not damage wood themselves. Nevertheless, they can be an indicator of termite infestation.What do soldier termites in a house? As far as you know how the soldiers look, noticing them in your house you should pay attention to following things:

  1. Sagging of wood floors or buckled floorboards.
  2. Bubbling paint and discoloration on your walls and ceilings, which look like water damage.
  3. Termite tunnels and “mud tubes” on vertical structures, outside or under your house and especially around the foundation.
  4. Some pattern of wood damage followed by the woodgrain, creating a “ribbed” effect in the wood around your house.
  5. Mounds looking like tiny wood pellets in and around your home’s wooden structures.

Useful articles

If you interested in more information of termites we recommend you to read the following articles:


As far as you see the life of termites is much more complicated as you can imagine. Their nest is a little kingdom with a couple of monarchs, lots of workers and a number of soldiers as defenders.

Photo4Now you know how termite soldiers look like and would probably recognize them coming to the termite’s nest. These facts not only give you some interesting information for evening reading but also handy tips against your small but powerful enemies.

In the article about the queen termite you can find info on how to find and destroy the termite queen by yourself. You should be wearing proper protective clothes as on your way to the nest you’ll meet up with aggressive soldiers and may even be bitten by them. That will be your own, either positive or negative experience of dealing with soldier termites.

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