Facts About Termites – Queen, Worker and Soldier

Termites have been around since the time of the dinosaurs.

Although they are known as “white ants” (especially in Australia), they are only distantly related to the ants. The University of California reports that cockroaches and termites descend from a common ancestor.

There are more than 2,500 kinds of termites in the world. All termites are social insects (they have a heirarchy and live in a nest instead of being solitary).

Termites do have wings – they shed once they have found a place to build a nest.

Although they are considered as pests to homeowners, these decomposers are actually beneficial insects. They infest dead and dying trees, recycling them into new soil. They speed up the natural cycle of deterioration and therefore allowing for new growth to begin.

Termite colonies eat 24 hours a day and seven days a week! They never sleep.

Termites communicate through chemical signals (pheromones) and vibrations caused by head-banging.

These insects also dont like sunlight, and if exposed to sunlight they can actually die. This is why termites travel in mud tubes and live in nest either above or below the ground.

termite facts

The termite gut is loaded with useful microorganisms capable of breaking down cellulose. Termites digest cellulose with the help of these microorganisms in their guts. However, termites are not born with all this bacteria in their gut.

Before these insects can start eating trees, they engage in a practice called as trophallaxis (or eating each other’s poop). And they also need to resupply themselves after they molt.

termite mud tubes

A 100-million-year old termite with its abdomen ruptured was found encased in amber, along with the protozoans that spilled out from its wounded abdomen – creating a record for the oldest example of mutualism between organisms.

termite tubes

Termites raise their young as a group.

Every termite colony has a social system. The king (a male that has flown and mated) and queen (a female that has flown and mated)termites are at the top of the colony – their roles are to help the colony reproduce.

The first time termites hatch from their egg, they look the same. And when they mature, it assumes the form of its social position within the colony. According to caste (social position), the termite will eventually be a soldier, worker, king or queen. The physical and behavioral differences between castes are believed to be determined by a combination of genetics and their environmental influences.

The queens can live 50 years but the workers and soldiers typically live a maximum of 2 years. A termite queen can lay 40,000 eggs in one day.

termite queen

The workers (largest group in the colony) often have a creamy white color and these are the termites that eat wood in your home. Worker termites gather food as well as taking care of their queen. The soldiers (those with big jaws and bulbous heads) protect the colony.

In almost all species, both the soldies and workers in a given colony are blind. The only termites that require eyesight are the reproductive termites, as they need to find mates and new nest sites.

Soldier termites have powerful mandibles used for crushing predators that threaten their colony. In certain species, they are twice as large as worker termites and these soldiers can spray noxious chemicals from a snout on the front of the head.

soldier termite

Although the mandibles of soldier termites are impressive to look at, these soldiers are incapable of feeding themselves, but are fed by worker termites.

When a threat is detected, termite soldiers will tap warning signals to their colony. To sound this alarm, they will bang their heads against the gallery walls so that warning vibrations can be sent throughout the colony.

Ants, spiders and nematodes eat termites and therefore considered as termite’s natural enemies.

Soldier termites are usually the last to die when the colony is starved, poisoned, cooled, heated or desiccated.

While worker termites damage and consume woods, it is the soldier termites of certain species that pinch but they cause no injury.

The most destructive of the termites is the Formosan termite – they are noted for having exceptionally large colonies.