Termites are often referred to as “white ants”, but they only resemble the true ants in their behaviour. There are several castes of termites having different duties and living for varying periods of time
Some species, such as Nasutitermes exitiosus, have only one queen, while others, like Microceroter mes turneri, have many. The queen lays the eggs and during her early life tends the young until the workers take over this duty in the colony. Some termite queens in tropical areas lay 4,000-6,000 e per day, but Australian species appear to lay less.
There are several forms of queens:
(1) Macropterous – primary or first form queens. These were fully winged in the colonising flight
but the wings were lost before mating and setting up a colony,
(2) Brachypterous – supplementary or neoteinic queens, These have short wings and have not the
reproductive potential of macropterous queens. The wings vary in size, depending on the stage at
which they were selected as queens.
In some species, such as Coptotermes acinaciformis and Nasutitermes exitiosus, the queen’ abdomen becomes distended with eggs and she is termed physogastric and restricted to the royal chamber. Neoteinic queens become physogastric but not to the same extent as macropterous queens.
Mastotermes darwiniensis queens do not become physogastric.
The original king fertilizes the queen, helps establish a colony but does not vary much in size during his life. He lives for many years,
These are sterile, blind and wingless. They have pale bodies coloured often by the food being eaten. They perform all the work of the colony, such as gathering food, extending the nest or repairing it, feeding the soldiers and nymphs as well as the royal pair. The worker caste is present in most species except those of the Kalotermitidae.
These are present in all species., They have white to brownish bodies and dark brown heads. Schedorhinotermes spp. have two types of soldiers, namely major and mince
Most termite species have mandibulate soldiers or those with distinct mandibles. Napatitermes spp. have voldiers whose heads are flask shaped and these are referred to as nasute soldiers. The nasute soldier uses his head as a physical obstruction and also produces a repellent chemical from a pore in the end of the snout. Coptotermes spp, also produce a milky latex when provoked, Soldiers cannot feed themselves and depend on the workers.
These are the future kings and queens of new colonies. After development they leave the colony in summer to autumn, depending on the species and environmental conditions. These colonising flights usually occur before or after rain during hot and humid weather when conditions outside approximate to those in the parent colony. Depending on the species and conditions in the colony some of these reproductives may be selected as neoteinics.
Usually reproductives leave the parent colony from cuts in the tree or wall, but mostly this is near the nest. The reproductives are winged and have compound eyes.
DETERMINATION OF CASTES
It seems that shortages of any caste, causing an imbalance, is reflected through hormonal produc- tion, and this enables more of a particular caste to be produced. For instance, a shortage of workers would be overcome by hormonal changes resulting in the deficiency being made up. While parthenogenesis is possible it seems more likely that fertilization is the normal thing.
Termite nests vary in shape, size and structure, depending on the species and area of occurrence.
These are usually made by species such as Coptotermes lacteus, Nasutitermes exitiosus and Micro-cerotermes turneri. Coptotermes acinaciformis and Coptotermes frenchi nest in trees while Nasuti- termes walkeri makes nests in trees known as “nigger-head nests””.
When buildings are attacked subterranean nests may be made by Coptotermes acinaciformis and Schedorhinotermes intermedius. Heterotermes ferox constructs small rambling nests, often against nests of other species.
Porotermes adamsoni, Neotermes insularis and various species of Cryptotermes are referred to as dry wood termites. Cryptotermes spp. usually have dry round faecal pellets rather like borer frass.
They do not need moisture as much as other species and attack furniture and other loose objects as well as buildings. They are not of common occurrence in NS.W. but do considerable damage in Queensland.
THE COLONISING FLIGHT
The colonising flight occurs at times of high humidity to minimise the desiccation of the reproduc- tives. The workers cut openings in wood, ground, trees, or in fact any material in which they occur, to allow the reproductives to escape. The soldiers guard the exit during this time. The reproductive drop their wings, mate and search for a suitable nesting site. At first the workers are small, but as the colony grows they become larger, and after 2-3 years the colony is capable of causing economic damage in the case of the destructive species. Only a small percentage of those that leave the colony ever become established, for the termites are prey for many insects, arachnids and other animals.