Termites are highly social insects that construct complex nests and elaborate caste systems, so it’s not surprising that their reproduction practices and life cycle are rife with complexities too. Not all termites get to reproduce, however. Like ants, bees and wasps, termite queens lay eggs. Each colony also features a termite king whose occupation is fertilization. And, of course, it’s a good thing that only one king and queen per colony reproduce. Some termite queens are known to lay as many as 40,000 eggs in a single day. Read on to learn more about the fascinating life cycle of termites.
Termite life begins with an egg. Although it differs from one termite species to another, the time it takes for an egg to hatch is between one to two weeks. Consequently, if a queen lays 40,000 eggs in a day, 40,000 nymph termites will emerge in a couple of weeks–maybe less. Some species of termite queens will lay five million eggs in a year.
Nymphs are translucent white in hue, and although they resemble small termite adults, they will go through several molts as they mature and develop. Although eggs hatch quickly, nymphs take longer to develop. In fact, it may be several months before they become adult termites. During molting, nymphs will shed their exoskeleton. They molt until they become worker termites. All nymphs develop into workers, while some will go on to become soldiers or alates (reproductive termites).
While still nymphs, young termites are unable to cause any damage to your house. Adult termites share food with them until they become adults themselves. Most people won’t notice nymphs unless their home’s termite infestation is quite severe. Nymphs tend to remain near the core of the nest where it’s safe, and food is easily available. Factors such as food availability and temperature can impact how long it takes for nymphs to become termite workers.
All nymphs will begin adult life as worker termites. The queen, through her pheromone instructions, will designate which termites must take on other duties for the colony. In fact, a termite will continue to molt depending on what the colony needs from it. Typically, worker termites look like pale ants. Workers construct tunnels and nest chambers. They are also responsible for feeding and grooming other termite castes. Workers live roughly one to two years.
Soldier termites have bigger heads and mandibles than worker termites. They’re also darker in color than workers; their coloring is yellowish-brown. They protect the colony and queen through combat and by guarding tunnels. They also warn the rest of the termite colony if they sense threats; they’re known to bang on the walls of the nest’s tunnels and tubes to sound the alarm if any problems arise. Interestingly, although soldiers develop from worker termites, they can also become workers again. If the colony needs more workers, soldiers can switch castes as can alates.
Alates are reproducing termites. These are the termites that people are most likely to encounter as they prefer light and fresh air. Alates will swarm during the spring or summer before losing their wings and mating. After mating, they will establish new nests, each with a new queen and king. Alates are typically black and have white wings.
It’s Good To Be Queen
Very few reproductive termites will have the ‘honor’ of becoming queens. When conditions are optimum, some termite queens have been known to live for a decade. Subterranean queens have been known to live up to 25 years, and the longest-living queens can live up to 50 years! Early in her reign, a queen may only produce 20 eggs a day. As the colony grows, she will produce thousands daily. As queen, she will remain in her chamber while worker termites will help her move about as her abdomen will grow considerably in accordance with her role.
It’s Good To Be King
King and queen termites are monogamous and mate for life. The royal couple finds a suitable spot to create a chamber where they can mate. After mating, they stay put in their chamber. They’ll continue to mate for as long as they live. The king doesn’t grow very big, whereas the queen will grow a distended abdomen. The king also behaves like an attentive father and helps to feed their young offspring with pre-digested food.
Of course, these are general facts about the termite life cycle. Keep in mind that some termite species feature queens that can reproduce asexually if the king dies. In some species, queens will replace themselves with one of their daughters. Although the termite life cycle is fascinating, it’s not a process you want going on under your roof. Be sure to call your pest control experts to help prevent the termite life cycle from happening at your home.
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