Termites are social insects. This means that there is a division of labor between different types of individuals (castes). Workers and nymph termites perform all of the work of the colony and are the forms, which do all the damage to structures. Soldiers serve only to defend the colony against enemies. They cannot eat wood. The workers feed them, together with the reproductives. Both workers and soldiers are blind.
Winged adults are referred to as the primary reproductives (often called swarmers). They emerge from the colonies on colonizing flights during certain seasons of the year. After these flights, a male (king) and a female (queen) will pair up, lose their wings, and construct a small cell in the soil. There they will mate, lay eggs, and rear the first group of workers. In colonies where these primary forms are no longer present, supplemental or secondary reproductives without pigmentation or functional wings occur, often in large numbers.
Each termite colony is self-supporting and essentially independent of other colonies. Termites develop via gradual metamorphosis from eggs, which are laid by the primary or secondary reproductives. Nymphs hatch from the eggs and undergo several molts through which different individuals develop into one of the various castes. Four different castes can develop from nymphs: workers, soldiers, winged (primary) reproductives, and supplementary reproductives. Workers are the most numerous in a termite colony. They perform all of the work of the colony, feeding the other castes, grooming the queen, excavating the nest and making the tunnels. In the process of making nest and tunnels and ingesting food, they chew and eat wood, thus causing the destruction to structures.
Workers are usually light-colored and do not have wings or any specialized structures. Soldier termites serve specifically to protect the colonies from its enemies. Their heads are large, quite hard and have much larger jaws than are found in the other forms. When openings are made into termite workings, the soldiers gather with their large heads and strong mandibles facing outward and protect the colony from invaders. Supplementary reproductives of both sexes are wingless or have very short, non-functional wings. These reproductives are developed as needed and quickly replace a primary queen who is injured or dies. They usually develop in addition to the primary queen and become the most important source of eggs in the colony. Supplementary reproductives, with a group of males and workers, may become isolated from the main colony and can establish a new colony, thus spreading the original infestation without being visible above ground at any time.
Primary reproductives (swarmer termites) are the caste most often seen by homeowners. The winged adults are usually much darker than the other members of the colony. All four wings are the same length and extend more than the length of the body beyond the tip of the abdomen. Both male and female reproductives leave the colony in great numbers (swarms), usually in the spring or fall. These swarms are often the first visible indication that termites are present. Environmental conditions must be just right before termites will swarm. As a general rule, swarmers emerge on warm, sunny days, when the humidity is high, often on days following rain showers. Swarmer termites are often confused with flying or swarmer ants. Since ants are often seen swarming in and around buildings, it is important to distinguish between the two so that the appropriate control recommendations can be made. There are three ways to separate termites from ants:
First, ants have a very thin waist between the thorax and abdomen, while termites are broad waisted.
Second, termite wings are all the same size and shape, whereas the forewings of the ant are larger, longer, and of a different shape than the hind wings.
And third, termite antennae are straight, whereas, ant antennae are elbowed.
Originally from China, Formosan termites are the most voracious, aggressive of over 2,000 termite species known to date. Formosan termites are a subterranean species of termite. Swarmer Formosan termite is about 1/2 inch in overall length, including their wings.
Formosans are organized into huge underground colonies, and build intricate mud nests inside the walls of a structure or trees. Formosan termites are the most aggressive subterranean termite species. Formosans are organized into huge underground colonies, and build intricate mud nests inside the walls of a structure. Because of their aggressive nature, Formosan termites are difficult to control once they infest a structure. Prevention is key.
These social insects infest dry wood and do not require contact with the soil. They form colonies of up to 2,500 members. Unlike subterranean termite species, drywood termite colonies do not have a worker caste. The work is done by immature termites before they reach adulthood. Drywood termites infest dry wood, like that found in attic framings or even old furniture Drywood termites can infest structures and cause significant damage.
Some Frequently Asked Questions about Termites
What are termites?
How do you recognize termites?
What is the biology of a termite?
How much damage do termites cause?
When does a homeowner see termites?
What can a homeowner do to prevent termites?
Does homeowner's insurance cover termite damage?
How are termites controlled?
What is the most effective type of termite treatment?
How difficult are termites to treat?
How much does a termite treatment cost?
Are these products dangerous to kids and pets?
What is the most effective type of termite treatment?
Why should someone hire a professional instead of attempting to control their pest problems by themselves?
What questions should homeowners ask during a professional termite inspection/treatment?
How long does a termite treatment typically take?
How long until the termites are gone?