The Termite Colony: All termites are social insects (i.e. they work and live together in order and organised colonies and care for their young. Each colony is composed of at least one pair of reproductive termites (i.e. King and Queen), workers, soldiers, and juveniles. Winged termites (alates) often refereed to a flying ants may be present at certain times each year and usually swarm (leave the colony) in spring to late summer mate and begin new colonies.
Most species are able to produce supplementary reproductives which are potential alates but do not leave the colony during swarming flights.
The worker caste numerically dominate the colony population and like the soldiers they are wingless, sterile and blind. The workers are aptly named as they build the nest and galleries, tend the eggs and young, gather food and feed other castes incapable of feeding themselves (king, queen and soldiers). Its the worker that eats timber and causes damage in buildings and other structures.
The soldier caste are distinguished by their head which are modified, heavily ‘armoured’ and pigmented. Because their jaws are modified or specialised, soldiers must be fed by the workers. The primary function of the soldiers is to defend the colony against enemies such as ants.
The alate caste, the potential kings and queens of new colonies are ‘perfect insects’, possessing eyes, functional reproductive system and wings. Following swarming each mated pair drops its wing and sees out a suitable place to start a new colony, the king alters little by the queen’s abdomen becomes enormously distended until she little more than a large, immobile egg laying machine. Mature termite colonies may number two million individuals and the queen is capable of producing over 23,000 eggs per day. Termite queens may live as long as 50 years.
A termite mound is the most familiar from of termite nest, however not all species inhabit this type of nest structure. Some prefer a completely underground existence, others build their nest within dead or living trees and stumps. Some construct no recognisable nest at all. Still other species prefer to attach their nest to a tree but maintain soil connection via galleries or tunnels running down the of the trunk.
In fact in south east Queensland the termite species that cause the most damage to buildings do not build a nest structure above ground level.