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Social Classification of Termites

The existence of termites is one of the oldest spans of species survival in our planet giving out an approximation of as old as the years of prehistoric animals such as dinosaurs. They originally live in forests but with industrialization, these insects have found their way into human territories. But then, regardless of their attributes, they remain indispensable. Given the fact that they feed on organic objects like wood, leaf litters, fruits and animal wastes, their destructive characteristic has a considerable place in the natural cycle of life. That is, fast decomposition, and the recycling of organic matters are proven significant for ecological balance. With their high capacity to break down organic substances or materials, they bring back to the soil the essential elements faster than the undisturbed cycle of disintegration. On the other hand, the fast rate of reproduction of termites has brought more impact to humans than what the role in nature originally imposed to them has been expected of. In order to know how to deal with these insects, we should first understand their natural behavior and their modes of survival.

Being eusocial insects, termites are classified into different groups according to their roles in the colony. Like ants, their lives are being determined by their functions and contributions to the holistic survival of the whole settlement. The highest social classification is composed of the queen and the king, having the queen as the highest and most important individual. Both of them are the only ones responsible for the growing population of the termites since in the colony, that is their sole function; to mate and reproduce. The king stays with the queen and continually mates with it for the rest of their lives reproducing as much termites as they could to add up to their population. The queen, on the other hand, has the capacity to reproduce at least 2000 eggs a day, having a distended abdomen and an increased body size in every after mating. This is due to the fact that the queen's body adds an extra set of ovaries for every molt. Moreover, the number of individuals or the size of the population itself is very important to the healthy and strong survival of all the termites so the queen and the king are the most valued members given the most attention from all other termites. All other social classifications have tasks which involve protecting and assisting these two royal termites.

The next social classification is the caste of workers. These termites assist the queen and the king with whatever they need. They are responsible in foraging, brood, food storage and nest intelligence. These are the termites we often see scavenging in woods, fruits or leaves. Since termites can produce their own cellulase enzymes in their bodies, they could easily digest even the hard woods or materials which appear to them as likeable source of cellulose. They also repair any damages in their habitat that may cause danger or inconvenience to any of them and feed and groom the young termites. They leave the nest to look for food in order to support the diet of the whole population and that is when we see them in our yards or even in our houses. In the perspective of pest infestation, the workers are actually the ones causing the dilemma. Like mice, they could munch their way in our furniture, walls and windows. Eventually, some of these structures may look fine in the surface but the inner part has already been terribly damaged by termites in their quest for food. They eat as much as their bodies could hold and feed the other termites in the colony either by their mouth or anus. This way of feeding is called trophallaxis. This method actually strengthens the animalistic bond between all of them but does not compel the parents of the young termites to be fully responsible in feeding and taking care of them. However, the main task of the workers is to care for the eggs and assist the queen with all its needs since the queen could not freely move due to its increased size. Since the queen is highly essential for the survival of the whole colony, it is given the highest priority when it comes to being attended to and served. Given so many tasks to do, the caste of workers is also divided into different groups attending to different kinds of tasks. Sometimes, some workers even assist in the defense of the colony even if they already have another caste assigned for that.

The last but not the least caste of termites is composed of soldiers. These termites are usually blind, only few are born to have partly functional eyes, and could not feed on their own. Thus, they are being fed by the workers. They have very large jaws that they could not forage for food so they stay within and around the territorial site. These jaws, however, are used in fighting which serve as their weapons while their bodies are biologically structured with armor-like skins for defense. Their globular heads could be used to block the colony entrances from the invasion or unwanted visits of ants and other insects. Subsequently, their enlarged jaws and their globular heads are ideal enough for them to be efficient in defending the colony. These termites actually have defense strategies in blocking a tunnel; big soldier termites stand in the front line using their heads to obstruct the entry while smaller soldiers form up at the back so that if the front line falls, there would still be another set of soldiers that could take place and fight the invaders. They also discharge fluids that have high toxicity against ants, which are their common enemies. Aside from the toxic substances that they excrete, the bites of these defenders are very strong they could even be close to intolerable even with animals a lot bigger than their size. If the battle gets worse and these soldiers sense losing, they commit suicide by rupturing a large gland located below their cuticles. In doing so, their bodies excrete yellow fluids which become so sticky as they dry up; thus, entrapping the ants or other insects that are trying to invade the colony.

Like any other animals, termites do not mean to exist just to be destructive because their survival characteristic even helps in the productive cycle of our ecological environment. They only become solely damaging and worth the extermination if the colony itself is built within our properties. Upon knowing the three castes and their functions, we are then educated on how to effectively get rid of them and that is to find the queen and eliminate it first before anything else. If you want to burn or tear down the colony all at once, make sure that you have efficiently got rid of the queen. Workers and soldiers could easily be replaced since the queen and the king continually mates; thus, reproduction is fast. But then, losing the queen would give you the advantage of totally eradicating the whole population of termites. It would not be easy for them to find another queen so before they even get successful in doing so; you already have the ample time to exterminate them.

This awesome post about termites was written by,
Michael Rozatoru
termite extermination