Termites are diverse. The different
types of termites do very different things. It is important to find out what
type of termite you have.
- (Pronounced Eye-sop-ter-a) , the termites, from the Greek,
Iso meaning equal and pteron, meaning wing.
The name refers to the wings of the reproductive caste, which
isn't very helpful as most termites are workers or nymphs and
never get to grow wings. There are two pairs of wings, with the
front pair the same size as the hind pair. The name termite
comes from the Latin word for woodworm.
pale, soft-bodied social
insects living in a nest or colony system. Primarily cellulose
feeding. Divided into castes, the most numerous caste are relatively
undifferentiated and perform much of the colony work, there is
a specialised soldier caste with head and jaw structures differentiated
with stronger features and often mouthparts more suited to defence
than feeding. The reproductive caste, known as alates (winged
ones) are produced when nymphs mature to develop wings and a generally
darker colouring. Metamorphosis is gradual (no pupal stage)
- Head rounded, eyes generally absent except in the reproductive
caste, antennae beaded, wings absent except in reproductive caste.
Chewing mouthparts. Wings deciduous, shed shortly after nuptial flight through breakage at a suture near point of attachment
(hence de-alate), leaving small scales which persist. Termites
are weak fliers, flights occur only under favourable conditions:
nearly still air, high humidity and with falling barometric pressure
indicating a likelihood of following rain. No constriction of
the abdomen (as in ants, bees and wasps). Here's a similar description
at the University
Distribution & Biology:
- About 3,000
species comprising about 300 genera. Mostly tropical or subtropical,
distribution generally between 48 degrees North or South. Distribution
limited by temperature envelope, especially winter minima, availability
of moisture and nesting sites. Food rarely limiting. Found in
most terrestrial habitats, including grasslands, shrublands, open
and closed forests. Greatest diversity in heathlands and tropic
rainforests. Mostly detrivorous, hence propensity to feed upon
timber constructions. Poor dispersal by natural means, but spread
widely by human action (eg. West Indian drywood termite
and Formosan subterranean termite are now pests in many countries).
Colony integration in part maintained by a complex series of chemical
communications, such as the female above, releasing a scent to
attract a mate or the various chemicals used to lay feeding trails.
- Mastotermitidae: Only a single species survives from this once widespread group. Mastotermes darwiniensis is generally
restricted to tropical Australia, but has apparently recently become established in New Guinea. These termites are large and most closely resemble their
cockroach ancestors. They have a reputation as the world's worst termite pest, but are patchy in distribution and can be readily managed. And, they give quite
- This family is often referred to as the Drywood termites because of their ability to survive with much
less water than the other families. Generally living in small colonies which are contained entirely within the timber being consumed. These are sometimes a major
threat to buildings but are of little consequence in Nature.
- Called the Dampwood termites, this family typically inhabits damp, fungus-decayed timber in trees and
logs. Often quite large, these termites are eaily collected and maintained and make good pets!
- Known as the Subterranean termites. Rhinotermitids usually nest in the ground or the base of trees.
They most often remain in contact with the ground, into which they tunnel and collect water. Their colonies often become exceedingly large, and they may feed
upon many different food sources, many metres apart. Most house-eaters are in this Family.
- Sometimes called the Higher termites, this family
is extremely diverse, reflecting a wide variety of diets and
specialisations. Members include the fungus-growing Macrotermitinae,
others that feed upon the humus in soil, and the Nasutitermitinae
with their glue-gun headed soldiers.
Some taxonomists add another Family, the Serritermitidae, but it's only got one species in
Just a few other sites with termite biology:
Tim Myles' and Co
at U Toronto
Michael Breed's behavioural approach
And then there's Terminix's amazing marketing tool, the swarming map of the US.
- - - - Lot's more to come here - - - -
Don's Termite Pages www.drdons.net/biology.htm
In the mean time, check out this piece on colony integration