Termites

Family: Termitidae


Termites belong to the infra order Isoptera which includes over 2,600 species worldwide. They are often referred to as ants which they are not. They are in fact more closely related to cockroaches. A colony of termites will include different castes, all with specific roles. They build large nests housing an entire colony of up to several million individuals. They feed on dead and decaying plant material such as leaf litter, soil and wood. The large termite mounds, termitaria, are created by fungus-growing termites (Macrotermes natalensis). The mound is an elaborate air conditioning system that keeps the nest at a constant temperature and circulates fresh air throughout.

Kingdom : Animalia
Phylum : Anthropoda
Class : Insecta
Order : Blattodea
Infra order : Isoptera
Family : Termitidae

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A colony of termites will include different castes, all with specific roles. Kings and queens are responsible for reproduction, soldiers for defence, workers for general tasks and alates establish new colonies. Each type of caste looks different but they are genetically identical.

A termite queen may live up to 45 years old, at the end of her life she may be licked to death by the workers. At this point the workers will feed a royal jelly (chemical) to a nymph which will prompt it develop as a queen.

A queen termite runs the colony via chemical signals (pheromones), these are exchanged across the colony by the sharing of food and saliva. Such signals may prompt her to produce termites of a certain caste, e.g. more soldiers if many had recently been killed.

Unlike ants that mate only once, the female stores the male’s sperm for future use, the termite king and queen mate daily. The result being up to 30,000 eggs being laid each day.

Termites are a keystone species, without them the ecosystem in which they live would be incredibly different or may actually cease to exist.

The large termite mounds, termitaria, are created by fungus-growing termites (Macrotermes natalensis). The mound acts as an elaborate air conditioning system which keeps the nest at a constant temperature of 31 degrees centigrade and circulates fresh air throughout.

When added together the weight (biomass) of all termites in the savanna exceeds the biomass of all the herbivores e.g. buffalo, antelope, giraffes.

If the colony is in danger, say from an ant attack, the soldier termites will tap on the walls of the tunnels to alert the rest of the colony. This may prompt the workers to seal the queen into her chamber for protection.