Termites are insects from Isoptera Order. They have been present since approximately 228 million years ago. Their key role in food chain was recycling of wood and other plant matter that is of considerable ecological importance. Termites are social insects. They distinctly segment their workforce within a colony. Members of a colony family are divided into groups according to the distinct function they perform. These groups are reproductive individuals of both gender (individuals that can mate or produce offspring), soldiers and workers. A family of termites is usually referred as a "colony". A large termite colony can have hundreds of thousands to millions of individual occupying areas up to tens of thousands of square metres. Very small colonies may contain less than 10,000 individuals foraging within a few square metres.
Termites are one of the longest living insects in the world, but this only applies to the termite queen, which in some species, may live for a decade or even more. The typical termite worker or soldier has a lifespan of about 1-5 years, but this depends a lot on the species and the environment it is in. Termites are one of the insects that undergo incomplete metamorphosis where the juvenile which hatches from the egg will show a lot of similarities to its adult appearance, and through a series of molts or instars, will gradually get bigger with each stage and assume its adult appearance gradually.
The egg cycle lasts approximately almost a month, the nymph stage lasts about a month (in temperate climates this may be more), and the adult stage would be about one to several years, as described earlier. This may vary from species to species, and also depend on external environmental factors. The worker nymph stage usually consists of about 7 molts or instars, in which the nymph gradually assumes its adult morphology. They cannot molt successfully, unless aided by adult worker termites, which help them shed their outer skin by chewing it off. The soldier nymph requires an extra few more molts (pre-soldier instar) before attaining maturity. Once becoming soldiers, they cannot revert back into the worker stage again (terminal molting). Reproductive individuals (fertile males and females) have a longer nymph stage than the other castes; hence more molts lasting several months.
All castes originate from the “basic” worker instar, and their numbers are controlled by circulating pheromones in the colony, and external factors, like food supply and current caste population. For example, if many soldiers perished in combat with ants, the pheromone imbalance would work to restore the soldier population balance in the colony.
The reproductive members include the Queen, the King, the immature reproductive individuals and the winged termites. The Queen reproduces all individual in the colony and is the core of the colony by regulating the entire life of the colony. The Queen may live up to 25 years and lay more than 2,000 eggs per day. The King function is just to mate with the Queen.
When a termite colony reaches a certain size where food source is insufficient to support further growth of the colony, The Queen reproduces and develops immature reproductive individuals that are winged. These immature reproductive individuals grow wings and later grow to be the winged termites. Winged termites are often referred as swarmers because they would swarm out from the nest to look for a new site to establish a new termite colony. After landing, the wings break off and a pair of wingless termite will become the new Queen and King of a new colony at a new site.
Soldiers are the defenders of the colony. They protect the colony against other intruders, including ants or termites from others colonies. Usually, this group of termites make up of 10 to 15% of a population in a colony. Soldiers are sterile and blind. Due to their giant size mouthpiece, they also cannot feed directly and have to rely on workers to feed them. Workers are the only termite members that damage our wooden structures by feeding on them. They are responsible for all the work in a colony. They nurse the young termites, repair nest, build foraging tunnel, locate food, and feed other members including the Queen and King of a colony. Like soldiers, workers are also sterile and blind. They usually make up more than 80% of a colony population
Termites build nests as their homes. The termite nest is the center of a colony, and inside it, situated a royal chamber where the Queen and the King live. Tunnels and mud trails are built by the workers for foraging and transportation purposes from the nest. Although most of the termite species build their nest underground, some species build their nest on trees whilst others build their nest above ground (mound).
Termites live in social colonies. The colonies may be small or big, having several hundred to several million individuals. Termite colonies can occupy part of a room in a house or span over a couple of acres of land. Large termite colonies are usually , self-organised systems of activity guided by swarm intelligence which exploit food sources and environments. Termites divide their work according to the role and function of each individual in the colony. There are 3 distinct groups in a colony, the reproductive, soldiers and workers.
Being social insects, termites within a colony share alimentary liquids including suspended particulates, and derivatives from one nest mate to another via regurgitation or anal feeding. This behaviour is important in the nutritional dynamics and communication of many social insects. Trophallaxis enables feeding of dependent castes and instars, transfer of symbionts and caste regulatory pheromones among nest mates, permits the signalling of food resource from foragers to nest mates and is a more efficient division of labour within nest mates of a colony.
Termites live entirely in an enclosed environment. When termites forage above ground, they must maintain their connection to the soil so that the workers and soldiers can return periodically to replenish their body with moisture. Mud trails provide termites with the soil connection. If a tube becomes damaged, workers will repair it immediately. If the tube is beyond repair, termites located above ground will die of dehydration. So, in order for them to survive above ground, termites will build an extensive network of mud tubes or mud works. Mud works are early indications of termite presence in our property.
Termites feed mostly on dead plant material, generally in the form of wood, leaf litter, soil, or animal dung, and about 10 percent of the estimated 4,000 species (about 2,600 taxonomically known) are economically significant as pests that can cause serious structural damage to buildings, crops or plantation forests. Subterranean termites feed exclusively on wood and wood products containing cellulose. Termites have protozoa (microorganisms) in their intestines that provide enzymes to digest cellulose. Although termites are soft-bodied insects, their hard mandibles work like shears and are able to bite off extremely small fragments of wood, a piece at a time.
Termites often infest buildings and damage lumber, wood panels, flooring, sheetrock, wallpaper, plastics, paper products and fabric made of plant fibres. The most serious damage is the loss of structural strength. Termites cause costly losses include attacks on wooden structures such as trusses, ceiling boards, window and door frames, flooring, carpeting, art work, books, clothing, furniture and valuable papers.
Subterranean termites do at times attack live trees.