Termites are a type of insect. Termites are eusocial insects that are classified at the taxonomic rank of Isopteran, or as family Termitoidae within the cockroach. Termites were once classified in a separateorder from cockroaches, but recent phytogenetic studies indicate that they evolved from close ancestors of cockroaches during the Jurassic period.
However, the first termites possibly emerged during the Permian or even the Carboniferous period. About 3,106 species are currently described, with a few hundred more left to be described. Although these insects are often called “white ants”, they are not ants.
Termites are among the most successful groups of insects on Earth, colonising most landmasses except for Arctica and Antarctica Their colonies range in size from a few hundred individuals to enormous societies with several million individuals.
Termite queens have the longest lifespan of any insect in the world, with some queens reportedly living up to 30 to 50 years. Unlike ants, which undergo a complete metamorphosis, each individual termite goes through a metamorphosis that is incomplete, that proceeds through egg, nymphand adult stages. Colonies are described as Superorganism, because the termites form part of a self-regulating entity, the colony itself.
Like ants and some bees and wasps from the separate order Hymenoptera, termites divide labour among castes consisting of sterile male and female “workers” and “soldiers”. All colonies have fertile males called “kings” and one or more fertile females called “queens”. Termites mostly feed on dead cellulose material and dead plants, generally in the form of wood, dead leaves, soil, or animal dung. Termites are major detritivores, particularly in thetropical and sub-tropical regions, and their recycling of wood and plant matter is of considerable ecological importance.
Termites usually are cryptic, meaning that they don’t come out into the open making them difficult to detect. They are often called the “silent destroyer” because they may be secretly hiding and thriving in your home or yard without any immediate signs of damage.
Even when they are visible within the home as flying insects, termites can often be mistaken for ants. Some homeowners will dismiss the termites as pesky ants (which often swarm at the same time of year) and ignore them without taking any preventive or extermination measures.
This allows established termite infestations to grow exponentially. Termites can be identified by their straight, beaded antennae, uniform waists, and wings of equal size.
Facts about Termites
- Termites generally swarm in the spring. It is important to get an annual termite inspection to prevent costly damage.
- Termites also swarm in the late summer.
- One colony of Termites can contain an average of 3 million members. There have been documented cases where 70 million Termites have been found.
- Termite colonies are often larger (and more damaging) in a home infestation than in nature
- All termites are Social insects and raise their young as a group.
- The total weight of all of the termites in the world is more than the weight of all the humans in the world.
- Termite colonies eat non-stop, 24 hours a day, seven days a week!
- Termites have wings that they shed once they have found a good place to build a nest.
Termites are usually small, measuring between 4 to 15 millimetres (0.16 to 0.59 in) in length. The largest of all extant termites are the queens of the species Macrotermes, measuring up to over 10 centimetres (4 in) in length.
Most worker and soldier termites are completely blind as they do not have a pair of eyes. However, some specieshave compound eyes, which they use for orientation and to distinguish sunlight from moonlight. Like other insects, termites have a small tongue-shaped labrum and a clypeus, the clypeus is divided into a post clypeus and ante clypeus. Termite antennae have a number of functions such as the sensing of touch, taste, odours (including pheromones), heat and vibration.
The three basic segments of a termite antenna include a scape, a pedicel (typically shorter than the scape), and the flagellum (all segments beyond the scape and pedicel) The mouth parts contain a maxilla, a labium, and a set of mandibles. The maxillae and labium have palps that help termites sense food and handling.
Consistent with all insects, the anatomy of the termite thorax consists of three segments: the pro thorax, the meso thorax and the meta thorax. Each segment contains a pair of legs. On alates, the wings are located at the mesothorax and metathorax. The mesothorax and metathorax have well-developed exoskeletal plates; the prothorax has smaller plates.
Termites have a ten-segmented abdomen with two plates. The tenth abdominal segment has a pair of short cerci. There are ten tergites, of which nine are wide and one is elongated. The reproductive organs are similar to those in cockroaches but are more simplified. For example, the organ is not present in male alates, and the sperm is either immotile or aflagellate.
However, Mastotermitidae termites have multiflagellate sperm with limited motility. The genitals in females are also simplified. Unlike in other termites, Mastotermitidae females have an ovipositor, a feature strikingly similar to that in female cockroaches.
The non-reproductive castes of termites are wingless and rely exclusively on their six legs for locomotion. The alates fly only for a brief amount of time, so they also rely on their legs. The appearance of the legs is similar in each caste, but the soldiers have larger and heavier legs. The number of tibial spurs on an individual’s leg varies. Some species of termite have an arolium, located between the claws, which is present in species that climb on smooth surfaces but is absent in most termites.
Unlike in ants, the hind-wings and fore-wings are of equal length. Most of the time, the alatesare poor flyers; their technique is to launch themselves in the air and fly in a random direction. Studies show that in comparison to larger termites, smaller termites cannot fly long distances. When a termite is in flight, its wings remain at a right angle, and when the termite is at rest, its wings remain parallel to the body
Caste System in Termites-
Worker termites undertake the most labour within the colony, being responsible for foraging, food storage, and brood and nest maintenance. Workers are tasked with the digestion of cellulosein food and are thus the most likely caste to be found in infested wood. The process of worker termites feeding other nestmates is known as trophallaxis. Trophallaxis is an effective nutritional tactic to convert and recycle nitrogenous components.It frees the parents from feeding all but the first generation of offspring, allowing for the group to grow much larger and ensuring that the necessary gut symbionts are transferred from one generation to another. Some termite species do not have a true worker caste, instead relying on nymphs that perform the same work without differentiating as a separate caste.
The soldier caste has anatomical and behavioural specialisations, and their sole purpose is to defend the colony. Many soldiers have large heads with highly modified powerful jaws so enlarged they cannot feed themselves. Instead, like juveniles, they are fed by workers. simple holes in the forehead that exude defensive secretions, are a feature of the family Rhinotermitidae.[ Many species are readily identified using the characteristics of the soldiers’ larger and darker head and large mandibles. Among certain termites, soldiers may use their globular (phragmotic) heads to block their narrow tunnels. Different sorts of soldiers include minor and major soldiers, and nasutes, which have a horn-like nozzle frontal projection. These unique soldiers are able to spray noxious, sticky secretions containing diterpenes at their enemies. Fixation of Nitrogen plays an important role in nasute nutrition.
Queen and the King
The reproductive caste of a mature colony includes a fertile female and male, known as the queen and king. The queen of the colony is responsible for egg production for the colony. Unlike in ants, the king mates with her for life. In some species, the abdomen of the queen swells up dramatically to increase fecundity, a characteristic known as physogastrism. Depending on the species, the queen starts producing reproductive winged alates at a certain time of the year, and huge swarms emerge from the colony when nuptial flights begins. These swarms attract a wide variety of predators.
Types of Termites-
Dampwood Termites- Dampwood termites are normally larger in size than other termite species. Like drywood termites, dampwood colonies don’t have workers. Younger termites called “false workers” do all the work for the colony.
These termites are of half an inch in size, with a long, narrow or oval body, having brownish colour. It has six legs, with wings and antenna. Dampwood termites like to feed on very moist wood.
Because they need lots of moisture, dampwood termites usually live in damp, dying wood or in houses with leaking plumbing that keeps the wood wet. Dampwood termites do not carry disease and don’t usually bother buildings because there is not enough water in the wood.
Drywood Termites – Drywood termites form colonies of up to 2,500 members. Drywood termite colonies don’t have workers. Younger termites, called “false workers”, do all the work for the colony.
These termites are of half to three fourth of an inch in size, with a long, narrow or oval body, having light brownish colour. It has six legs, with wings and antenna. Drywood termites eat wood, wallpaper, plastics and fabric made from plants.
Drywood termite colonies are usually found in dry wood and they do not require moisture or contact with the soil. Drywood termites can build nests and dig tunnels in buildings. These tunnels cause major damage because the wooden support beams can become weak and make the building lean or fall down.