The Caste System
The term social insects have been used to describe insects that live together while following a very strict organization. Ants and termites are classified as social insects because of this very reason. This article will discussed about the caste system used in termite colonies.
To foster our understanding of the caste system implemented by termites in their respective colonies, it is important to note that an entire termite colony can consist of thousands to millions of individual termites. In fact, a single Queen termite can produce about 20,000 termite eggs per day. In order to help the colony survive, each termite is delegated to a specific caste that will distinguish the specific duty and responsibility of each termite in the colony. Once the caste of the termite has been distinguished, a termite is bound to still to its job until it dies. There are five classifications in the termite caste system, these are:
1. The Queen and the King.
The Queen and the King both belong to the Reproductive caste. Like the queen bee and the queen ant, the queen is the only termite present in a specific colony that can lay eggs. Each colony only have single queen and king because it is the very nature of mated Alate termite (see next caste) pairs to depart from their original colony and start a new colony of their own. After mating, the appearance of both the queen and the king alters in order to adapt to their new responsibility. The king's appearance only changes a little; however, the queen will experience those most dramatic physical changes. The queen's abdomen is gradually enlarge until it becomes a mere egg-laying machine, a termite that cannot move and whose only purpose is to lay eggs while producing hormones called pheromones. Since the queen in immobile, the mating produce of the king and the queen from then onwards becomes a one-way approach. The king simply injects to the queen the other hormone that is needed to complete the reproduction process.
2. The Winged Termites.
Winged termites belong to the Alate caste. In Australian where termites are mostly prevalent these termites are called flying ants. They are the only fully developed insects in the colony. They have wings, eyes and reproductive organs. Such termites appear in the colony only in select periods within a year. The main purpose of such termites in to assure the sustainability of the specie. When Alate termites find their pair and begin to mate, they will lose their wings and they would be compelled by nature to start a colony of their own in the ground. Alate termites cannot start a new colony inside a building or a house; they have to start on the ground in order to survive.
The presence of fallen Alate termite wings is often the most obvious warnings to the homeowner or property caretaker that a possible termite infestation is apparent. Since Alate termites shed their wings after the swarming process, their wings usually end up scattered on the floor or caught by spider cobwebs. Alates leave their colonies from spring to summer. They usually appear late in the afternoon or very early in the evening when the atmospheric humidity is high. They also come out during storms and heavy rains.
3. The Substitutes.
These termites are classified as the supplementary reproductive caste because they are like Alate termites which are fully developed by unlike them, they do not leave their colonies. They are like stand-by replacements for the king and the queen in the event that they die. If substitutes are not readily present, it is possible for the colony to die. This explains why many termite colonies can survive for many decades. If during their lifetime the queen and the king still lives, they remain as substitute until the day that they die. Nevertheless, the role of the substitute termites in the colony is indispensible and they are considered equally significant as the other classes.
4. The Workers.
The working class comprises majority of the colony population. Although they are so many, workers remain faithful to their duty because they are technically blind and sexually sterile, thus rendering them useless if they do not follow the caste and start working incessantly. The working class are called as such because they do all the things that are supposed to be done in the colony. For example, it is the working class that eats the feces of the other termite castes and then drops its faeces in a specified place where colony expansion or improvement is needed. They also dig the tunnels and guard the galleries inside the colony. Moreover, the nurses that take care of the eggs also belong to this caste. It is this termite class that causes the damage to many different wooden and cellulose-based houses and buildings.
5. The Soldiers.
Like all soldiers, the main responsibility of soldier termites is to defend the colony from whatever threats that it has to face. Soldiers look a little more different than the other termites in the colony; they have modified heads that are pigmented. The head also appears to be heavily armoured that the soldier termites are helpless when it comes to feeding themselves. Workers are supposed to feed soldiers because they cannot do so by themselves. It is through the modified appearance of soldier termites that experts began studying their caste system. Thus, it is because of the soldier termites that we now have a clear understanding of the different responsibilities performed by all the termites in a specific colony.
The caste system implemented by termites has helped these insects survive and thrive over the past thousands of years. While it is still not clear how termites are born with the specific characteristics that they have, what is clear to many experts is that the existence of termites depends so much on this system. Take away their system of organization and you also take away their chance of surviving.
I, Michael Rozatoru, just wrote this awesome post :)
UPDATE: There is another cool post on this topic called "The Social Classification of Termites" that you might want to check :)
- ▼ 2011 (55)