Termite colony consists of the queen, soldier, worker and king. Following the destruction caused by termites, there has been an increased need to understand how exactly these insects live within the colony structure. Find out more including the size of a colony
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Termite Colony Structure & Size
A termite colony is a collection of termites. It refers to the organized groups in which termites live. The colony contains several castes; immature termites, soldiers, workers, reproductives and nymphs.
The structure of a termite colony consists of the king and the queen termite as being on top of the colony and then the soldiers and the workers.
The soldier and worker termites do most of the work as compared to the king and the queen who do most of the work.
The size of the termite colony is relatively small for the first two years. In a year’s time, a termite colony may contain about 400 members.
This range is approximated to sometimes be 51 to 984. A mature colony will have about 8 soldiers. Nymphs and soldiers of starting colonies are smaller than those in mature colonies.
A complete drywood termite colony has about 4800 termites. Subterranean termite colonies may have as many as 60000 to 1000000 termites. Formosan termite colonies on the other hand may have about 350000 to 2000000 termites.
A new colony is established when male and female termites flea from their colony so that they can mate.
You will notice that these termites fly around so that they can find a mating partner and the most suitable location to establish their colony. This however only happens during the mating period.
Once a location where the colony can be established is found, the queen termite lays eggs which hatch with time. The larvae termites hatch undergo molting where they shed their outer exterior shells which are described as hard.
You cannot give a definite duration that a termite colony takes to be formed since termites keep on expanding their colonies with sub colonies being formed. Termite colonies are reported to last for years.
The queen termite is found to be bigger than the other termites. She plays the greatest role in the colony.
She is said to make so many sacrifices for the sake of the other members of the colony. It is the termite queen who decides the size of the colony, the make-up and how exactly the termite colony will be divided. She is estimated to live for a range of 20 to 50 years.
Queen termite is unique in that it is among the few creatures whose abdomen expands to extremity.
This growth is explained by the fat deposits in her abdomen as well as the enlarged ovaries. How big the abdomen of the termite is depends on the type of termite. For instance, the abdomen of the queen of the drywood termite only enlarges to a minimal size.
The estimated standard size of the abdomen is 10cm. Most of the times, the abdomen of the termite is hundred times larger than a normal termite. The size of the head and the legs however stays the same. You can easily approximate the size of the queen termite by looking at the size of the nest. A large nest is a clue that the termite is very large.
Once the queen and the king have started a new colony, the queen immediately starts laying eggs. When she is mature enough, she lays hundreds and thousands of eggs. At first, the queen lays only a few eggs but the number of eggs increases every year. The peak egg performance is for 7 to 10 years.
A colony may also have secondary queens. In such a case, the colony is likely to expand greatly and very fast since all the queens will now participate in egg laying. The number of eggs produced by the queen will be different for different termite species. The age of the termite is also another factor influencing how many eggs the queen lays.
Termite queens produce eggs continuously in tropical regions. During the year, however, the number of eggs produced will vary. On the contrary, you will realize that egg production in temperate regions is not there during the cooler months.
The queen of the termites lives in a royal chamber, a special cell which is set aside. If you locate a termite colony, check the center of the nest and you will see the cell that is made for the queen.
The royal chamber is made up of thick walls and many outlets. These outlets allow the other termites to come in and out of the royal chamber as they carry out their duties of looking after the queen.
It is the other termites that feed the queen and carry her eggs away from the nursery. To ensure the delicate pheromone balance is maintained in the entire colony, the other termites keep on licking the queen.
Something very interesting is the ability of the queen termite to reward the termite workers for their hard work. She occasionally produces juice from her behind and upon taking this juice; the workers become stimulated towards doing other jobs.
When the queen is mature, she finds it extremely hard to walk since her big abdomen is in direct contact with the ground and as such, the legs cannot reach the ground.
When the queen desires to move to a particular place, the other termites roll her until she gets to the place. Due to her heavy weight, dozens of termites must participate in moving her.
The termite depends on the queen for their survival. If you want to get rid of the termite colony, all you need is to find the queen and destroy her.
Once the colony is left with no one to lay eggs and keep the colony controlled, it simply comes to an end through the death of the termites and the eggs that had been laid by the queen.
One of the three castes of the termite colony is the soldier termite. It is given the role of protecting the colony; just like the name suggests. You need to be able to distinguish this caste of termites from the rest in terms of appearance. Some of their main features are;
- They have protruding mandibles which explains their ability to guard the colony.
- Their mandibles are dark colored.
- Their heads are large.
- Compared to the workers, they are classified as being bigger.
- The body of the termite soldier is elongated.
- They are light brown, pale red, or white in color.
As already highlighted above, it is the soldier termites which offer the colony defense services. When any insects invade the colony, the soldier termite uses its big head and the mandibles to battle such insects.
In the case of the subterranean termites however, they are often overwhelmed by the invaders. This is majorly explained by the small number of soldier termites in the subterranean colony.
The soldier termites of some termite species have an added advantage in the battle since they have a fontanelle. This is a projection which is the shape of tube and has a sticky substance used to trap the insects which invade the colony.
Apart from defending the colony, the soldier termites also plug holes in the mud tubes. These mud tubes act as a link between the termites and the source of food for the termites. The ability to plug the holes is explained by the hardened and oversized heads.
Additionally, the soldier termites sometimes act as organizers. There is always a soldier in any group of termites which tunnels to the food source. This is however not a major duty of the soldiers.
The soldiers find it difficult to feed due to their jaws or mandibles which are very large. The mandibles make it impossible for the soldiers to bite the cellulose material or wood. It is the duty of the worker termites to feed the soldiers.
Although a rare occurrence, the soldier termite may bite you when you try to interfere with them. They cause an irritation on your skin but no pain is experienced at all.
Termite bites do not cause spread of any diseases. Termites do not feed on wood but they offer protection to the worker termites which feed on wood.
In a colony, you will find that one to ten percent of the colony members are soldier termites. A summary of the major roles performed by soldier termites are; they protect the colony, they communicate to the colony in case of danger, and they cover any gaps that may be created in the mud tubes.
In some termite species, the soldier termites develop blue pouches which explode with time and hence destroying any invading enemies.
When the termite explodes, it dies and this means a big sacrifice to the whole colony. Such pouches will grow throughout the termite’s life and get filled with crystals that are blue in color. These crystals are produced in termite glands.
You first of all need to know how worker termites look like so that you easily identify them in a colony. This group of termites does not have wings and their mouthparts are hardened. The head of a termite worker is hardened unlike the rest of its body. A worker termite’s body may dry up if it is not in a moist environment.
The workers can be described as the most active caste of termites. They are the major caste in a termite colony. They always have something to do in the nest or galleries.
The worker termites stay in the colony almost all through as they do repair and maintenance of the galleries. As earlier mentioned above, it is the workers who take care of the queen in the colony. Other crucial roles of the workers include the following;
- Another responsibility of the workers is hunting for food for the rest of the colony. In fact, about 10 percent of the workers are always away in search of food.
- The article also highlights above that the soldiers are very few in a colony. Where there are no soldiers in a colony or where they are overwhelmed by the invaders, older workers assist in defending the colony.
- Apart from feeding the queen, the workers help in feeding reproductive and soldiers who cannot feed themselves.
- In case of imbalance in the colony composition, the workers eat some of the colony members as a way of maintaining a balance in the population.
Some termite species have unique workers who develop some chemical containing sacs that turn out to be explosive. Such worker termites offer defense to the colony by bursting to release toxins which paralyze the enemy.
The worker termites feed on wood. These are the termites that cause extreme damage since they not only look for their food but that of the other colony members as well. When you find that your wood structures are damaged, you can attach the big share of blame to the worker termite.
The workers chew through beams, boards, and planks leaving the wood looking like a hollow shell. With such kind of feeding, the whole structure made of wood is brought down. These termites cause damage of about $2 billion dollars in the United States.
Every colony has a king and a queen. In order of importance, the king is next after the queen. It is the king and the queen of the colony who ensures the population of the colony is maintained. The roles of the termite king are not well defined. The only clear role of the king termite is to start a new colony and maintain it.
As soon as a king meets a female alate, they both shed their wings and they get into the ground. They keep on mating for the rest of their lives to expand the colony. The kings take care of the larvae by ensuring they are cleaned in the event where the workers are absent.
All termites are born with the potential of becoming a king or a queen. The king and the queen regulate the colony by use of pheromones. The kings always remain the same size throughout their life; the size of an average worker.