Friday, 10 January 2014

Termite Society: Knowing Who’s Who

Since humankind first began to build shelters of their own, one creature has served to plague humans unlike any other: the termite. Small as ants, eusocial ants, as voracious as locusts and every bit as destructive as a swarm of rats, termites have destroyed many a home since wooden homes first came into popularity. Unfortunately, despite having advanced well beyond what our primitive ancestors could build, there are still a lot of people who find themselves troubled by the little pests. Indeed, their endurance, their numbers and their ability to degrade wood easily make termites some of the most hated pests despite their relatively small size, blindness and being weaker than other insects like ants and cockroaches.

The Termite Caste System

Termites are “eusocial” creatures, meaning they have a society similar to that of ants, bees, and wasps. Unlike equally voracious and hated locusts, termites actually have a social organization that makes sure that everybody in the hive gets some kind of benefit. That’s right, termites can be compared to a country with its own government (not to mention soldiers) or an evil corporation. And all this despite being usually less than inch in length.

Anyway, here are the members of a typical termite hive:


Workers are probably the most numerous members of a termite hive. They number in the billions and their sole purpose of existence is maintaining the hive and make sure that everyone gets to eat. They’re usually relegated to building the hive and making sure it stays together. If you notice those lines of dirt (actually it also includes termite poop as building material) that run up trees or your wall, note that this is how worker termites attempt to create a kind of safety tunnel for them to travel in; as they are perhaps the weakest members of the hive and are quite vulnerable to a lot of things. Also, take note that they’re usually blind as they can usually be found in the deeper parts of a hive where having eyes would otherwise be useless.


Left, left, left, right, right, right, go the six legs of the soldier termites as they go about protecting their hives from enemies like ants, wasps, other predators, and homeowners. Built for combat, soldier termites often have huge heads that can block up the hive tunnels preventing potential enemies from traveling further into the hive without confronting the soldiery of the hive. With their already large heads, soldier termites are fully equipped with acidic weapons that can be painful to potential predators. Also, they are known to bang their heads against tunnel walls as a kind of alarm telling other soldiers to join them and for workers to seek cover. In fact, whenever hives are breached, soldiers are known to stand outside the breach while workers quickly try to patch up the breakage in the hive wall.


Like all typical eusocial insects, termites have queens. Young termite queens often have wings and are usually the only termites with fully functional eyes alongside that of termite kings.


Unlike most eusocial insects where the unlucky males get to mate with their queen and die afterwards, male termites stay with their spouses. The duties of a king often include fertilizing eggs for the queen and feeding undeveloped members of the hive.

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