Meet the Termite Queen.
Termites are members of the order Isoptera, in which there are five distinct, or major families;
Rhinotermitidae, Termopsidae, Kalotermitidae, Termitidae, and Hodotermitidae. Each has distinct traits and several species are able to reside in different habitats. Rhinotermitidae encompass subterranean termite species that are commonly known for infecting homes. Termopsidae tend to make their homes in rotten wood, either found in nature or sometimes in homes. Kalotermitidae encompass species that inhabit both damp and dry wood settings. Termitidae are commonly called higher termites due to the increased pH of their intestinal tracts. Hodotermitidae are more common in the wilds of Africa, Southwest Asia, and the Middle East.
Characteristics true to all termites.
Universal to all termites, new colonies are formed when alates, or winged reproductive-capable males and females swarm from an existing colony. Mated males and females become the new kings and queens of colonies, at which time they remove their wings and settle down. Unlike a lot of other colonizing insects, a termite queen will keep her mate throughout her life. Kings not only stay with their termite queen after mating, they also help her raise the young. Between all the different species, the average lifespan for a termite queen is between 15 to 25 years, with longer spans for successful colonies in the wild.
Social hierarchy of the termite colony.
The style of nest, foraging patterns, and general habitat are what distinguish the different species, aside from minor physical differences. Termites live and work within a complex system that uses castes to determine different roles. In the colony there is a termite queen who lays all the eggs, and can produce them at a rate of around one every 15 seconds. The termite king fertilizers the queen as needed and assists with caring for the young, especially in the beginning stages of a colony.
Workers are responsible for everything else in the colony, including grooming, building tunnels, and feeding. Soldiers are the protectors of the colony and will beat their heads against tunnel walls to warn others when there is danger. Both the worker and soldier castes are blind, which is due largely in part because they rarely leave the dark confines of the colony during their life and have no need for sight. Reproductive-capable termites that will swarm away to make new colonies, often called reproductives or alates have two distinct sub castes. Those who grow wings will fly off to form new colonies elsewhere, while non-winged reproductives will remain in the colony and assist the termite queen as she ages and her reproductive cycles slows down. They may also replace the termite queen if she becomes ill or dies.
Interesting facts about the termite queen and colony.
Termites cannot digest the cellulose in wood by themselves. They require a certain type of protozoa that they first get from the termite queen and king. As new termites are born, the royal pair will feed them pre-digested food that transfers the necessary protists to their digestive system. When the colony grows large enough, they will cease feeding the young and give that job over to the workers.
An unfortunate necessity of being a termite is that they have to eat the fecal matter of other termites to keep up the colonies in their gut needed for digestion. While this may seem like a unique reason to dislike this particular type of insect, the necessity to ingest the previous generations feces is also found in some mammals, such as rabbits and guinea pigs. A more interesting fact about the termite queen and her colony is that none of them sleep. Every member of the colony is active 24 hours a day from the time they are born until the moment they die, which can be many years, especially for the royals.