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Termites Caste System: Getting to Know the Different Termite Castes

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The individuals that make up a termite colony are physically and functionally unique from each other—depending on their duty within the community. And their specific roles determine the particular castes or social organisations they belong to. There are generally 5 termite castes. Find out more about them below:

The Queen – As the chief and sole reproductive female in most colonies, the queen’s primary duty is to lay eggs—and she can produce tens of millions of eggs annually. The queen as well exudes “pheromones,” which are chemical messengers that control different aspects of the colony’s life like the gender and caste of other members, including their respective tasks. In older termite colonies, “supplemental reproductives” can also produce eggs at a shockingly fast growth rate, which is one of the reasons why termite treatment must be done only by trained, professional pest controllers. It is not hard to distinguish a queen termite because of its noticeably huge size, and she is the biggest termite besides the king.

The King – The male reproductive member in a termite colony, the king helps the queen in creating and nurturing the colony during its initial stages—before there are any mature workers. As soon as the first generation grow up and become workers, the king will then continue to mate all throughout his life to further increase the termite colony size. The king’s body is darker in colour, and is generally smaller than the queen’s body, but it is still larger than those of the other colony members.

Workers – In a termite community, most members are classified as workers who are responsible for caring of the eggs and the young, building and maintaining tunnels, hunting for food, and looking after other castes. Called the “little white ants,” these cream-coloured, soft-bodied, harmless-looking, grub-like creatures are also the ones to blame for all the damage to wood, since they are the only ones who have mouth parts needed to chew food.

Alates – Commonly confused with winged ants, alates or swarmers are sexually mature, winged termites who leave their parent colonies in groups to mate and build their own colonies. Most of them die in doing so, with their skeletons and shed wings scattered along basement walls, door and window frames, on sill plates, and other areas in and around the house. Usually, these dead alates are the first indication that a home may have termite infestation.

Soldiers – Soldiers, as the term implies, are in-charge of protecting the colony against predators and intruders. Any sign of threat, for instance, broken mud tunnel, the soldiers quickly gather together—all set to guard the colony. Existing only in mature termite colonies like alates, soldiers have large, armoured heads, and strong mouth parts, which are adapted for defence. These termites don’t directly cause damage because they are incapable of chewing wood, and only rely on the workers to feed them. Termites main enemies are ants, and soldiers are equipped to defend the colony against ant’s invasion.

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