Termites are known to be the most destructive insects capable of creating irreversible and massive damages. They are very hard to control and the damages they create make humans lose not only industrial structures but money as well. Subsequently, the greatest factor of this pest dilemma is the rapid reproduction of termites. Once a colony is constructed in a particular structure of the house, the population of these insects increases beyond expectations. As the number of individual increases, so as their diet does. The workers of the colony would need to feed with a great amount of appetite in order to suffice the needs of the whole settlement. For this reason, the damage they create becomes enormous and sometimes become irreparable; thus, the cost of reconstruction and replacement is also high. Understanding the life cycle of termites, therefore, would be a great help in understanding their fast rate of survival and consequently, would be able to help homeowners to fight off the infestation.
The life cycle of termites begin with the winged male and female members of the colony taking flight, swarming to reproduce. They are the individuals completely developed with wing buds, wings, compound eyes and brown skin due to their sclerotized cuticle. Before tackling the reproduction process of these insects, we are going to discuss the four procreating members first.
I. The Reproductive Termites
A. The Alates
Alates are the young reproductive members of the colony which have wings and are the starters of the life cycle. They leave the colony to mate and find a suitable place where they could start another colony of their own. In every swarming, a range of 100 to 1000 alates leave the colony. These are actually the termites we see flying around in groups but they eventually break up and fly in pairs to mate. After mating, a pair of termites settles down on their chosen site to shed off their wings and establish a new settlement.
De-alates are the alates which are successful in their mating process and have become kings and queens. As starters, a few eggs would be laid by the female de-alate and it would solely take care of the developing new members of the colony. As the number of individuals increases, the threes castes would then be formed: the king and the queen, the workers, and the soldiers. Subsequently, there would be aids for the queen as it lays more eggs to continue adding up to the growing population. The workers assist her in feeding and protecting the young ones since the queen's body size increases every after it mates with the king. Its abdomen enlarges to accommodate more eggs and as it does, it also decreases the capability of the queen to move and take care of its brood. After a couple of years, the number of termites in this colony has already increased to a population enough to be in the damaging stage.
C. Queen and king
These are the main reproductive members and also the most important termites of the colony. Their exclusive function is to reproduce and augment the size of the population as much as possible to increase the chance of survival of the whole bunch. The queen lays 1000 eggs per day and these eggs are white, translucent, small and ovoid in shape. Being the most attended termite in the colony, it could live up to 50 years. All other members of the colony such as the workers and the soldiers assist and protect her on top of anyone else. It does not have to be responsible to its eggs after laying them though; the workers are up for the task of doing so.
Neotenics are termites between being workers and being queens. They exclusively assume the role of being queen aids. Once the productivity rate of the queen decreases, neotenics assist it in order for the queen to continue reproducing. The moment it dies, one of the neotenics, which is deemed as the most capable one for procreating, would take the place of the queen in the colony and continue the population growth.
Workers are highly important in the colony not just because they are the ones foraging for food and seeing all other needs of the individuals in the settlement but also because without them, the queen would not be able to successfully produce as much number of eggs and young ones as possible. These termites are sterile, wingless and usually blind. The outer surface of their bodies is not pigmented and unhardened; thus, they need moist in order to survive and they are confined in dark areas. They assume on a lot of roles inside the colony and their life span usually last for one to two years. Moreover, workers, along with the soldiers, are the reasons why the queen needs to lay eggs as many as it could. The more workers and soldiers, the more the colony gets stabilized.
Moreover, the typical worker termite has three life stages; egg, nymph and adult. The egg usually lasts for a month, the nymph also lasts for a month and the last stage is the longest which lasts for a couple of years. During the nymph stage, worker termites molt seven times but they could not molt alone. Adult worker termites help them molt by biting off their outer skin. Some nymphs have wing buds but current reproductive termites prevent their complete transformation to being alates by releasing specialized pheromones to these winged nymphs. As they do that, winged nymphs lose their wing buds during molting. After the last molting, nymphs could then assume the adult morphology. However, this lifespan depends on different environmental factors such as the moist content of the surroundings, the temperature and the food supply.
Like workers, soldier termites are sterile and usually blind. During their physiological development, they need a few more molts than workers do. They enter a pre-soldier instar stage before attaining full maturity because they need to be more physically structured. This is for the reason that soldiers would need to have dramatically enlarged heads and mandibles which enable them to defend the colony efficiently. Once they finish their last molting, the transformation is irreversible. The globular heads of these termites become useful in blocking the tunnel entrances and their enlarged jaws are used as weapons in their battles to protect the colony. However, due to these physiological structures, soldiers are unable to feed themselves so they rely on the worker termites. Moreover, their life span lasts for one to two years depending on the environmental factors and battle results.
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