Termites! When you see winged termites around your surroundings you should know that a new colony of termites is forming in your backyard pretty quickly. Termites are brought about by sudden changes in weather, especially rain and high humidity. Once the rain starts pouring, swarms of termites are all over the place looking for where to build their new home. Not all termites fly as their ability to fly usually depends on the phase of their life cycle.
Termites with wings are produced only when a colony has gotten mature enough and the need to expand arises which usually happens approximately within the first three to four years. When time to expand begins termites head out of their old colony with the intention to seek out other other colonies so they can mate and form up an even bigger colony. Some of the termites head out during the day while majority of them are more active at night and fly out towards a source of light which they use as their meeting spot with other termites.
Once the fertilization has occurred, these winged termites fly back on the ground where they shed off their wings and start a new colony.
Features of Winged Termites
Termites with wings are usually confused with ants with wings. To be able to spot and identify these termites, it is necessary to know some of the features that winged termites possess that differentiate them from winged ants and other insects.
Winged termites are usually the reproductive termites in the colony and they make up the swarms who leave the colony to find other termites to mate with. After that, they shed off their wings, and look for a nesting site where they begin a new colony.
- Winged termites travel in swarms when looking for mating partners. Their have coal black to pale yellow-brown color bodies which are small in size and wings that are larger than their bodies.
- Winged termites have straight wings close to their waist that are equal in size.
- Winged termites possess 2 pairs of wings on each side that are of the same size but usually double the size of their bodies that is up to about ¼ to 3/8 inch long that are colored either pale, brown or smoke-gray wings.
Life Cycle of Winged Termites
Winged termites act like bees and majority of other insects. For a new generation of termites to be born, the reproductive termites must head out on what is usually known as a nuptial flight or a mating flight with thousands of other winged termites known as the alates. These termites head out in swarms usually after the weather conditions change drastically. After leaving the former colony, these termites meet up with other termites which they mate with and then reproduce. After fertilization has successfully occurred winged termites land and establish new colonies. These insects then shed their wings and become the king or queen termites of the newly established colonies. They will become responsible of the new colonies work and reproduction.
Once the fertilized queen lays her eggs, these eggs then hatch into larvae. These larvae then grow and are divided into castes and then assume a role in one of these three termite colony castes either the workers, the soldiers or the reproductive termites.
Caste System of Termites
- The Reproductive Caste – King & Queen
The King and the Queen makes up the reproductive caste of a mature colony and they are the center of the entire reproduction life of the termites in the colony. Egg production in the colony is the responsibility of the queen while the king has the responsibility of mating with her throughout the period of her lifetime. The abdomen of the queen usually swells up in some species of termites in order to increase fecundity. This characteristic is known as physogstrism.
The sole purpose of soldiers in the colony is to defend the colony. They have certain features such as large heads with highly modified powerful jaws which are so large that they are unable to feed themselves. They are instead fed by the worker termites. Identifying the soldier termites is easily done by looking at the large dark head of the soldiers. Some of these soldiers have the ability to spray poisonous sticky secretions at their enemies.
The worker termites are those in charge of all labor within the termite colony. They are responsible for finding food, storing food, cleaning and repairing of the nest. They are also tasked with the digestion of cellulose and usually are those who damage wood. Trophallaxis is a term used to describe the process where the worker termites feed on other nest mates.
Production of Winged Termites
The Queen termite begins to produce winged termites usually at a time known as the reproductive alates. The time when this occurs usually depends on the species of termites. When the time comes the nuptial flight begins and huge swarms of winged alates emerge from the colonies and take off to start forming new colonies. Usually when termites mate there are larger amount of birds and other animals around who want to feed on them.
The winged termites only keep their wings attached for a very short period of time as they shed their wings soon after mating has been successful. As these winged reproductive termites continue to grow and mature, their bodies and organs also develop. Their eyes begin to function, their wings extend to about twice the length of the body and the body begins to turn to a yellowish brown color. Reproductive termites have only one assignment in a colony and that is to leave, find a mate and reproduce. Finally, a very small percentage of these winged and swarming termites actually survive and actually start a new colony.