Many people have questions about the physical structure of termites: for example, "Do termites have eyes? How many legs does a single termite have? What is the use of termite antennae?
Well, the answer to “Do termites have eyes?” is: NO, because termites, at least partially, don’t have eyes.
Or, better put, they don’t have the ability to develop eyes.
The general biological characteristics of termites:
To know about termites’ eyes, you need to get the whole physical structure of a termite so you’d understand better the use of every organ. The termite colony is composed of several roles:
- The king termite: It is the fertile male of the colony which has the ability to fertilize the queen. The king termite has a round yellowish brown head with small mandibles and extensive abdomen and sometimes hairy wings.
- The queen termite: This caste is well known by its ability to lay down eggs and reproduce more termites in the colony, it has the major role of commanding other termites and it is well protected. The queen termite is, biologically, similar to the king but it just has larger abdomen due to its ability of carrying eggs in its ovary.
- Worker termites: Worker termites are the one with the role of seeking for food sources and feeding the whole colony. They have a major role in the colony and they are necessary for its survival. A worker termite is, commonly, composed of a pale yellowish body with a pale-off whitish round head without extended mandibles. It is, always, the smallest castes of the colony.
- Soldier termites: This particular caste does a defensive task: it protects the colony from exterior interventions and surveils its boundaries. A soldier termite has a larger abdomen than a worker termite and it has an oval pale yellowish brown head with straight black antennae and extended black mandibles to assure its defensive role.
After getting the general biological structure of a termite, now you can have an answer to the question “do they have eyes?”
Do termites have eyes?
Well, you might say: the king and the queen are always in the colony and they don’t move a lot, then they don’t need eyes; worker termites are always seeking for food source and they have a principal role in feeding the colony, then they, surely, have eyes because they need them; and soldier termites do the task of surveillance, therefore, eyes are necessary for them.
All these thoughts are wrong, and we are here to clarify your pieces of information:
- Worker and soldier termites: these two most important castes in the colony need eyes to accomplish their missions, but science has declared that worker and soldier termites don’t have the ability to develop eyes, at least in most of the termite species.
Some species such as Formosan termites contain worker termites with small eyes but they are not enough developed to make them see. Other species like North American termites which are either eastern subterranean termites or Drywood Termites or Dampwood termites have worker and soldier termites with absolutely no eyes.
The antennae in their head are as useful as human eyes, but they just feel, they don’t see, I mean most of insects have sensors and they react better than humans who have eyes.
- Reproductive termites (kings and queens): when termites are completely mature they become fertile and they are called reproductive termites which swarm to other places to form new colonies by mating.
King and queen termites have the task of commanding the colony and guaranteeing its survival so they have a tough mission in organizing the caste and surveilling the work. Therefore, they have eyes but not a high ability to see. They still rely on their sensors.
Well, since most of termites are blind then they must have some useful ways to communicate, means, they are the most social insects and the have a perfect social organization, that can’t be done without means of communication.
How do termites communicate?
Termites are very social insects with the ability of forming several nests and colonies in an amazing way. For that, worker and soldier termites have to communicate between each other. That’s why, termites have many was of communication:
- Chemical communication: Termites can communicate through a chemical substance called pheromone, which is secreted from exocrine glands at the bottom of termite’s abdomen.
Pheromones leave a remarkable ink trace and a significant odor for other termites to follow. There are several types of pheromones for many uses such as trail marking for food sourcing, the pheromone secreted by the queen to inhibit other termites from becoming fertile, the pheromone secreted by the king to replace the queen when the queen is dead…
- Mechanical communication: Termites have faster ways of communication than pheromone following, it is the mechanical way: in case of danger, a soldier termites hits the ground with its mandibles which causes a significant vibration which the termites at the colony feel and it is considered as a sign of danger.
- Sound communication: In case of danger, when there are many colonies near to each other, every individual of a single colony produces a sound when the colony is facing a danger to warn other colonies. Many individuals would produce a significant sound which can be heard from meters near to the location of the colony.
Well, now you know that termites are blind, but this doesn’t present a problem for them as they are able to use many ways to communicate and assure the survival of a colony, which makes of them the most smart social insects with the most powerful defense system.
Further Resources about Termite Vision:
- Termite-egg mimicry by a sclerotium-forming fungus by Kenji Matsuura
- Termite Biology – North Carolina State University
- Can Termites See? – MyTermiteTreatmentCosts.com
- Subterranean Termite Biology and Behavior – Virginia Tech & Virginia State University
- Subterranean Termite, Reticulitermessp. – Oklahoma State University