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Termites are social insects and belong to the insect order ISOPTERA and live in colonies that comprise of various castes. The castes include the reproductive, the workers and the soldiers. The castes differ in form and the role they play in the colony. The number of individuals within each caste is regulated chemically and is dictated by the needs of the colony.
It may come as a surprise to many, but termites are not actually related to ants. To read more on this fact- it can be read on Wikipedia here
Subterranean termites are often referred to as ‘white ants ‘or as “little white wormy things” However just as ants are social insects, so are termites and they live in large colonies. A major difference between termites and ants is their shape of their bodies. Ants have a constriction half way down their bodies (like a wasp), whereas termites have a uniform broad body without any constrictions.
Termites feed on a variety of cellulose- containing material such as wood, bark, leaves, fungi and grass. Termites have a strict caste system, which consists of worker termites, soldiers, winged termites or reproductive, a queen termite, and a king termite.
The most common type of termites in Gauteng is the subterranean termite. Subterranean termites have the “flying termite” or “winged reproductive”. These winged termites are new kings and queens attempting to establish a new colony. They may also be referred to as “swarmers” or “flying ants”. These are commonly seen flying around in their thousands after and during summer rains. Ant colonies also send swarmers, which have nearly the same appearance as termites but may be identified upon closer inspection.
Subterranean termites within a dwelling are often difficult to detect until it’s too late. They cause most damage to wooden skirting boards, wooden floors, door frames and furniture. The process how they damage wood is rather interesting as the worker termites are in search of the cellulose content within the wood and hence will remove all palatable wood from the inside of the above-mentioned wooden structures, and damage is often only noticed when the structure is hollowed out completely. Subterranean termites will destroy unprotected wooden structures and timber if given the opportunity. Signs of their activity are mud like clusters on walls, skirting boards, door frames and the like or over impenetrable foundations to provide lines between the nest and their food source.
Termites further have the ability to change from one caste type to another during their immature stages. This allows the colony to change the proportion of different caste members as the need arises.
Below are some Images of subterranean termites, including the queen with her workers, along with an active nest and visible infestation under wooden floors
Below you will see the obvious differences between ant and termite swarmers
Workers represent the majority of the colony population and are responsible for caring for eggs, constructing and maintaining tunnels, foraging for food and feeding and grooming of other caste members. They are white and soft bodied.
Soldiers are responsible for defending the colony. They are white, soft bodied with an enlarged, hardened head containing two large jaws, or mandibles, which are used as a weapon against predators.
Winged reproductives produce the offspring in the colony and swarm at certain times of the year. Colonies can have both primary reproductives (one king and one queen), and hundreds of secondary reproductives to assist in egg laying and colony growth.
The King termite assists the queen in creating and attending to the colony during its initial formation. He will continue to mate throughout his life to help increase the colony size.
The Queen termite creates the colony by laying eggs and tending to the colony until enough workers and nymphs are produced to care for the colony. She can live for more than ten years and produce hundreds of eggs each year. Colonies can each several million termites with the help of secondary queens who also produce eggs.