TERMITE COLONIES:

HOW TERMITE COLONIES ARE FORMED

termite colony

Termites are social insects whose colony members perform different jobs in the colony according to their caste (reproductives, workers or soldiers). Knowing how termites reproduce may help you learn how to control them.

A typical termite colony will have a single pair of reproductives: the king and the queen. The termite king and queen produce pheromones, a scent that signals nesting and mating, that spread throughout the colony to prevent the worker termites from becoming reproductive adults. The queen is responsible for starting the colony and laying all the eggs until the colony reaches a certain size. She will then allow some of the immature termites to develop into secondary queens which lay the additional eggs needed to keep the colony thriving. The king and queen can live 15-25 years. If the queen or king dies, or there’s an increase in the size of the colony, the concentration of pheromone levels and type change. Then one or more workers will molt into reproductive termites, or alates.

HOW DO TERMITES REPRODUCE?

Subterranean termite colonies mature in about six to seven years, at which time alates (swarmers) are produced. Termite swarmers can be brown-black to pale reddish-brown in color depending on the species and about ¼" to 3/8” long, with pale or smoke-gray wings. During late winter or early spring, male and female swarmers leave their nest on a mating flight with thousands or even millions of other winged termites.

The swarmers are poor fliers, so they usually only fly a few yards from their old nest. However, they may be carried great distances by the wind. Winged termites often land on the roofs of buildings and move inside. Many of the alates are eaten by frogs, lizards, birds or spiders during this mating flight, so relatively few alates survive to find nesting sites, reproduce and form new colonies. The termite colonies produce many alates so that at least a few survive the mating flight.

Male and female swarmers pair up during the mating flight. The female alate releases a pheromone to attract a male for nesting and mating. The winged termites shed their wings shortly after landing and spend the rest of their lives without flight. The male and female termite couple look for a nesting site near moist soil.

Before mating, the new king and queen burrow into the ground, digging a royal chamber in the moist soil. The termite king and queen seal their nest with soil, saliva and their own waste. Then the king and queen mate.

After mating, the new king and queen spend the rest of their lives underground being fed by the worker termites. The new queen lays her first batch of six to 12 eggs within a few days or weeks of mating, establishing a new termite colony. A mature queen can lay thousands of eggs each year. As the colony increases in size, the queen may allow more reproductives to help produce enough workers to feed the colony. Mature termite colonies typically contain 60,000 to 1 million termites. 

If you see winged termites inside or near your house, you probably have a termite colony nearby. That means it's time to call your Terminix® specialist for a termite inspection and treatment. 

Termites differ from many other insects in that they live in organized social colonies. A termite colony can vary in size from only two termites (a king and queen) to a million or more.

Depending on the species, a colony will contain several forms or castes, including immature termites, workers, soldiers, nymphs and reproductives. These castes can be distinguished by physical characteristics.

The workers

In most termite colonies, workers are wingless and soft-bodied. They comprise the largest single group in most termite colonies and are the termites most frequently seen when infested wood is disturbed.

In some termite colonies, the immature termites or the sterile adults are the workers.

The workers take care of eggs and immature termites (nymphs), forage for food, feed and groom nest mates and take care of the building and maintenance of the colony structures.

The soldiers

Soldiers are the protectors of the colony. They can vary greatly in appearance from other members of the termite colony and are typically larger.

They may also have darker heads and larger mandibles than workers. Soldiers guard the termite colony and defend it against predators.

The reproducers

Reproductives are the termites that procreate. They look different than the others in that they often have darker bodies.

At maturity, they initially have two pairs of wings of equal size and are called alates. After the swarming flight, they shed their wings and establish new colonies.

The queen

The queen is largest in physical size, attaining mass several times that of workers. Her main function is to lay eggs, sometimes thousands in a single day.

In some termite colonies, other individuals are capable of replacing kings or queens if they die.

The new branch

Subterranean termite colonies may also be established by division of an existing colony.

This satellite or sub-colony has the capacity of producing its own reproductives and developing rapidly as an independent colony. A new organized social colony is then established.

The best answer for a termite colony on your property is contacting a termite control professional and putting a termite damage protection plan into action.