The termite colony and caste
The termite colony and castes
A colony is established by swarmers. Swarmers are the new king and queen of the colony. Swarmers will leave their existing colony (around March through June) to create a new one. Swarmers are the only caste which have functional eyes. After leaving the colony the termites will pair up during their flight, land and then look for a place to start their family. Shortly after landing they lose their wings.
The new king and queen will start excavating a chamber large enough to crawl inside. Once inside they seal the opening and mate. From this point they spend the rest of their lives underground. The termite queen can produce over 500 offspring per year. The parental king and queen have the longest life span in the colony and can often survive a decade or longer producing thousands of offspring. These are the new colony reproductives.
If the king or queen should die, other individuals within the colony will start to develop functional reproductive organs to take their place and these are called secondary reproductives. They can’t produce as many eggs as the original queen, however more than one set of secondary reproductives can be active in a colony and produce thousands of offspring between them.
Subterranean termite workers are found in infested wood. The workers are responsible for all of the labor in the colony. They care for the young, repair the nest, build foraging tunnels, locate food, feed and groom the other castes, and each other. The termite workers are both male and female but they are functionally sterile. They are milky white in color and have no wings or eyes. The body of the termite worker is soft, but its mouthparts are very hard and adapted for chewing wood.
Subterranean termite soldiers are the defenders of the colony. They protect the colony against raiding ants and foreign termites. When the foraging tubes are broken into, the soldiers will congregate around the break and stand guard against invaders. Soldiers are also blind, soft-bodied and wingless. However, the soldiers have an enlarged, hard, yellowish-brown head which has been adapted for fighting. The head has a pair of very large mandibles or jaws that are used to puncture, slice and kill enemies.