Biology

Introduction

Termites are commonly known as white ants which is probably due to their blanch exterior but are ironically unrelated to ants.   These ravaging insects belong to the order Isoptera which means that they live and work in large groups called colonies.  Termites in these colonies are cooperative individuals and are highly social insects.  By dividing labor between castes and having an organizational system, termites are able to acquire food resources that would be impossible if termites embarked on solo food searches.   Termites feed on cellulose-containing material which is why they cause serious damage to commercial and residential buildings around the world.

King and Queen

A colony of termites contains different castes which are queens, kings, soldiers and workers.  It sounds a lot like a monarchy in the medieval ages.  The stark difference would be the queen and king in a termite colony reproduce all the members of the colony which is an amazing feat.  The queen may spawn a whooping 20,000 to 30,000 eggs a day with her loyal king by her side.  Some nymphs develop into alates, which are in the reproductive caste.  They possess wings, which allow them to swarm out of their nest and form new colonies.  During their flight, the alates pair up and upon landing, they shed their wings and start mating in a suitable environment.  Initially, the king and queen tend to their offspring but in the later stages the roles are reversed.

Worker

Worker termites are tasked to searching for food and feeding other castes.  Workers feed others by regurgitating their food and are in charge of building and repairing the nest.  Thus, they are the most numerous in caste and are wingless.

Soldier

The soldier termites are aptly named.  They protect the colony against enemies, especially ants as they are armed with large jaws and poisonous fluids that they spray upon their enemies.  Soldier termites also have noticeable enlarged heads that they utilize to great effect.  When ants invade a termite nest, soldier termites use their bulky heads to block the points of entry.

Feeding Behavior and Nesting

Termites basically feed on cellulose which is found on wood.  However, they rely on microscopic organisms in their gut to digest the cellulose to be absorbed.  Furthermore, termites can be branched off into mainly four types, namely dry wood, damp wood, mound building and subterranean.  Dry wood termites feed on dry wood as they extract water from the wood to survive.  However, dry wood termite damage occurs much slower as compared to the other types of termites which provide some measure of relief.  Damp wood termites on the other hand nest and feed on damp wood, especially if it is decaying such as felled timber and dead trees.  Mound building termites build mounds that are riddled with tunnels and chambers inside it to serve as nests.

Furthermore, subterranean termites, which are most common in Malaysia, build their nests underground.    These termites are free to leave the nest to search for food and water unlike the other types of termites. They move underground which is why they can easily go undetected and also consume wood at a rapid pace which makes them very destructive insects.