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Termites are cellulose-eating insects that fall under the infraorder Isoptera and showcase a tremendous social system, similar to ants and bees. Isoptera in Greek means ‘two pairs of straight wings’, and over the years, termites are sometimes called white ants or confused with true ants. After researchers saw them under a microscope, they noticed the distinguishing features between termites and ants.
Termites include a large number of species, close to 2,750 species that are prominently found in tropical rainforests all around the world. Transportation for these insects was easy, as they were sometimes accidentally transported through wooden pieces like boat timbers, furniture and shipping crates. Termites are surviving for more than 120 million years.
Now, let’s look at the life cycle of a termite insect, to get a better understanding.
Life Cycle of Termite
1) The Egg – Stage 1 –
After fertilization, the female termite lays her eggs in a jelly-like liquid that holds the eggs together. A female termite can lay around 30,000 eggs in one day. Termite eggs are small and white in colour and can be noticed through the naked eye.
Later, these eggs are incubated for several weeks before they hatch into larvae.
2) The Nymph – Stage 2 –
These larvae appear to be pale, white, and have tiny exoskeletons. These nymphs emerge with antennae and six functional legs. During this stage, the nymph develops by moulting, bypassing through instar stages as they mature. During moulting, the nymph termite removes their outer skin as they become very tight. The hormonal indicators decide which caste the nymph evolves into eventually.
Later, the nymph termites come out bigger and more developed. Termites here undergo several instars before they reach sexual maturity. The number of instar stages varies, depending on the species of termites.
3) The Adult – Stage 3 –
When termites reach the adult stage, they form large colonies that are segregated by class or caste. The colonies include workers, reproductives and soldier termites.
- Worker Termites: Most young termite insects develop into worker termites, which are considered the largest termite colony. They appear to be yellowish-white to creamy white in colour. Worker termites do not have eyes, or wings, and are larger than nymphs. In a few species, workers are the only termites who can feed independently.
- Soldier Termites: The soldier termite comes after workers, as they are the second largest colony of termites. Soldier termites are able to defend themselves and mostly work towards guarding the nest. In soldier termites, the mouthparts are specially designed for defence purposes. In appearance, they have the most distinctive features. Soldier termites are sterile and blind. Soldier termites release a toxic substance through their nozzle when encountered by an enemy. Soldier termites are considered to be the most active kind of termite.
- Reproductive Alate: In termite colonies, king and queen termites are the only ones who can reproduce. Reproductive alates that appear to be golden to dark brown are also known as swarmers. While some alates are dark-brown, the other species of alates are reddish-brown. In size, alates are bigger than soldiers and workers.
- King Termite: A male alate who has finished mating is called a king termite. A king termite does not change in size after becoming the king of a colony.
- Queen Termite: Over time, queen termites become much larger than king termites. The former reproductive alates are called queen termites. The ovaries of queen termites develop continuously as she grows older. Due to this, a queen termite is able to lay large amounts of eggs. As the queen termite lays her eggs, her abdomen also gets swollen with time.
Even though termites are known to survive in large colonies, these colonies take time to develop. Sometimes these colonies take up to four years to be formed. Termites are wood-eating insects that are often confused with ants. But termites are more close to the family of cockroaches. Termites are known to survive mostly in warm and humid temperatures.
Over the years, termites are also called wood bugs as they have destroyed structures and households. Some African termites are also considered to be advanced termites, living most of their lives in soil. Approximately 20 species of termites are spread across the lands of America, Europe, Africa and Australia.
Frequently Asked Questions on Termites
Can termites see?
Adult reproductive termites or the king or queen termites have completely developed eyes and are the only members of termites who have vision.
Can termites fly?
Yes, termites can fly. Adult termites have two pairs of wings of the same size that enable them to fly. But not all members of a colony can fly. Only reproductive adult termites are capable of flying, among all the termites.
What do termites eat?
Termites require a warm and humid temperature to survive and mostly feed on wood. During a termite infestation, the termites look for wood and any wooden article is at high risk of infestation. Eating wood provides termites with cellulose nourishment.
How long do termites live?
The life expectancy of termites varies, depending on the species it belongs to. The life expectancy of worker and soldier termites is up to 10 to 14 months. But, the reproductive adult termites live for more than four years, especially the reproductive females or queen termites can live for more than 25 years.
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