Termite Social Behaviors

Did you know that termites play an essential role in nature? They help in breaking down dead wood and other cellulose materials which is vital in the ecosystem. Termites range in size from 1/8 of an inch to 1 inch long. Their colonies vary in colors from brown to white and black. However, their colors depend on the life stage of a particular termite and their species. The most common behaviors of termites are useful ecologically, they can be a pest in a home or business.

Some common behaviors of termites include:

Colonies

Termites are social insects, and they tend to live together in an organized family structure called territories. One colony can comprise of 100 to 1 million termites, depending on the species. In each colony, there are smaller structures called castes which have different functions in the colony and have their own unique and distinguishable form of characteristics. Further, each termite colony has a king and a queen who are responsible for reproduction. There are three principals in caste which include: The soldiers, workers and the reproductive.

Swarming

Swarming is the most conspicuous sign of termite behaviors around the homes. Swarming is the process which a new termite colony forms after a queen termite leaves the colony with a large group of workers. About 60% of the workers leave the original location with the queen termite and where they go on to form another colony. The primary purpose of termites swarming is to mate and start new colonies. Colonies of subterranean termites can produce thousands of swarms while other species like dry wood termites produce fewer swarms.

Termite species are mainly into two major pest categories: 1)dry wood and 2) subterranean termites which cause considerable damage to human structures and requires the application of different methods for extermination.

Reproduction

For the termite colonies to continuously grow in number, reproduction has to take place and for this to happen each colony has a royal pair, the king and the queen. The sole purpose of the king and the queen is to reproduce. Once the termites have swarmed, the king and the queen are the primary reproductives, and they have the most extended lifespan in the whole colony, which can be almost 20 years for some species of tropical termites. The central role of the queen is egg production, and it can produce as many as 30,000 eggs in a single day.

Due to a large number of eggs the queen lays, her abdomen becomes extremely large. The queen cannot move without the help of the soldiers. The queen has a central cell in the lower area of the nest where the king stays closer to her to ensure he fertilizes the eggs before she lays. Once the Queen lays, the fertilized eggs hatch into white larvae, then develops into workers, then soldiers and then finally primary or secondary reproductives.

The central role of reproductives in the termite colony is egg production and the establishment of new territories. They become the future queens and kings or supplementary queens and kings in the current colony. The new kings and queens carry on the reproduction process which ensures continuity and thriving of original colonies.

Feeding Habits

The workers are responsible for ensuring the whole colony has food. Their main diet is mainly products that have cellulose materials including dead plants and woods. However, not all termites feed on wood and plants: some feed on grass which makes them less harmful to structures and plants. Once the workers have obtained food, they partially digest the cellulose materials then distribute them to other members of the family through a process called trophallaxis. Only the workers have the protozoan enzymes in their digestive systems which can breakdown the cellulose materials; thus the other caste member feeds after the workers have already digested the cellulose. Feeding takes place after workers have digested the food. The termite then regurgitates it from their own stomach and transmits it from mouth to mouth or through the dispensation of fluids.

Communication

Termites are blind, and therefore they can’t see each other. They communicate through pheromones (which are chemical signals) and vibrations. Each family in the colony emits a specific pheromone that is specific to that particular group. Pheromones are essential in supporting the termites’ social structure as the insects can recognize their nest mates through scents. Further, termites secrete pheromones to mark the trail to food and also alert the colony in case of danger.The recognition of these different pheromone scents by the specific members of the caste plays a vital role in communication survival and growth of the colony.

Protection

Termites pheromones are essential to the colony in many ways but have a significant role in ensuring the protection of the colony against their predators. If insects, animals or other colony enemies attempt to invade, termites who are nearest to the danger zone begins to bang their heads against the walls, creating vibrations. After each bang, they accompany the waves with the secretion of pheromones, which serves both as a warning to other termites and a threat to the enemies. Soldiers then arm themselves and rush to the intruders to protect the whole colony.

Fighting

The elders of the colony are the soldiers, as their name suggests, and they are ready to fight. The termites’ major threat are ants. Termites usually lose the fight to ants, but can cause significant damage to the ants. Once the pheromone has notified soldiers of a possible threat, they invade them, and with their strong, sharp mandibles they bit off the limbs of their enemies ensuring their colony’s protection.

With the social behaviors of termites, both the dry wood and subterranean termites can be destructive pests. They eat trees and plant, including materials used in buildings insulation, carpets, plastics, fabrics, and animal feces. When you find out there is a threat of termite infestation around your home, it is essential to take the necessary protection measures before they cause substantial damage to your properties.

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