If you have discovered a termite infestation in your home, chances are that your house guests have been living with you a lot longer than you expect. The termite queen is one of the longest living insects in the world. She can live up to a decade, if the environmental conditions are right. The queen does not spend her time idly, she uses those ten years to rapidly reproduce and increase her family size.
Termite families are called colonies and are highly organized into a cast system where individual termites have specific jobs and abilities. This type of organization is known as eusocial and is the most organized form of animal societies. Ants, bees and wasps are other examples of eusocial insects.
Not all termites are capable of reproduction, therefor the termite life cycle begins with the queen. The young termites which are destined to reproduce will start their journey into adult life with a pair of wing buds. Over several months the buds becomes wings capable of carrying the young virgin queens on their one and only mating flight. This is the only time a queen leaves her home. She sets out only to find males from other colonies that are capable of reproduction. She will mate with as many males as she can find. After she has mated sufficiently her body becomes heavy and she finds a place to settle in and call home. Here she loses her wings and starts to lay eggs. This will be her job until she dies. The worker termites care for her and her young to support the efforts.
The larva of a termite remains in the egg for approximately 1 month. When the young termite emerges it is called a nymph. The young termite is very similar to its parents in appearance, unlike other insects that emerge as a worm like grub and have a metamorphosis period. The termite nymph instead has several moltings or shedding of its external body. This is commonly referred to as an incomplete metamorphosis. A termite nymph relies heavily on adult worker termites as it develops. The worker termites help the nymphs remove the hard exoskeleton with each molting phase, by chewing through the hard exterior. During the molting phase a nymph ends up taking on one of three specific adult roles; worker, soldier or alate.
Worker: It takes the nymph approximately 7 molts to become a full adult worker termite. This adult termite looks like the nymph termite, only larger and stronger. The worker termites build the structure of the colony, organize, tend to the queen and young termites.
Soldier: It takes the nymph several more molts to become a full adult soldier termite. The soldier termites take on a yellow and brown coloring. Soldiers develop a larger head and strong, large mandibles. The soldier termite’s sole purpose is to defend the colony from outside threats and invaders.
Alate: These are the termites capable of reproduction. Both male and female termites can become alates. This is the longest molting process and takes several months to complete. Alate termites develop wings and are capable of becoming the new parent termites of the colony, or they may leave and start a new colony. Some colonies may have more than one egg laying queen.
The most interesting element of the termite life cycle is the role that pheromones play. The journey a nymph takes into adulthood relies fully on the various pheromone levels in the colony. If the colony is low on any particular cast of termite the pheromone levels will reflect this and the nymphs will have a higher rate of producing the type of adult termite that is lacking. Further more, if there are not enough nymphs to produce the required amount of soldiers or the queen dies and the colony needs alates, fully developed worker termites can actually molt into these two other types of adult termites. However, soldiers and alates can not change in to other forms of adult termites.
Termites feed mostly on plant matter, usually in the form of wood. A colony of termites can range in numbers from several hundred individuals to several millions. The large number of feeding individuals is what causes the structural damage to homes and devastates crops. If you are noticing signs of termites in your home the chances are that you already have a large colony which has been present for several years growing in number daily. You may even have more than one colony.
When you first notice signs of structural damage or see termites in or around your home you need to take action right away to protect your property. If you have not seen any termites it would be best to defend your home from an infestation from ever occurring. Taking preventative measures is the smartest and safest route.