Termites Lifecycle: All You Need to Know About The Silent Destroyer

June 15, 2020

Because of their secret lifestyle, termites are by far some of the worst pests to have in a home or business. After all, they didn’t get the nick-name “silent destroyers” for nothing!

Termites are almost completely undetectable. That is until they have already caused extensive (not to mention expensive) damage. But if there’s one thing termites are, it’s efficient. Every stage from the beginning of their life cycle to the end plays a role in making termites some of the toughest insects to get rid of.

Eggs

Like most insects, termites lay eggs. Their eggs are tiny, translucent ovals that vary in color depending on species. Some are white while others pale orange or brown. The eggs are typically in clusters that, to the naked eye, look like small piles of powder.

Termite eggs hatch at different speeds for different species. Usually, though, they hatch 1 to 2 weeks after being laid.

Termite eggs

 

Larvae

Termite eggs hatch into larvae, which are also referred to as immatures or baby termites. These larvae molt, or shed their exoskeleton, several times while developing. Through molting, they become members of one of three castes- workers, soldiers, and reproductives.

Termite larvae molt into certain roles depending on what the colony needs. The queen or king releases a pheromone into the colony that tells the larvae what roles need to be filled, and the larvae molt accordingly. If a colony is low on workers, larvae will become workers. The same goes for when reproductives and soldiers are needed.

Sometimes, larvae that have already molted into one role will be needed in another role. When this happens, the larvae actually have the ability to develop into a different caste type. For instance, a larva that began as a worker may change directions and develop into a soldier, or start growing eyes and wings to become a reproductive. Similarly, a winged larva in the process of becoming a reproductive may regressively molt, losing its wings to become what is called a “false worker,” or pseudergate.

Nymphs

Nymphs are immature termites that are on their way to becoming reproductives. They have wing buds that will either grow into full wings or stay short. Nymphs that grow full wings will become alates, which are the termites that swarm to begin new colonies. These nymphs will also grow eyes to aid in swarming. Nymphs whose wings do not grow to full length are still able to aid reproductives inside their colony.

Castes

Termites, like all social insects, divide their colonies into castes. Each caste has a different set of responsibilities. The members of each caste are different in appearance from those of the other two castes. There are three castes which, as previously mentioned, are workers, soldiers, and reproductives.

Workers are blind and wingless, and are the smallest of the three termite castes. They are very pale in color and have a slimy, maggot-like appearance. Workers’ heads are hardened, but their bodies are not. They have somewhat of a teardrop shape because their heads are slightly smaller than their bodies. Workers are the most likely of the castes to be seen outside of the nest.

Worker termites definitely get the short end of the stick in terms of responsibilities. They are responsible for the vast majority of the tasks around the nest. They build the nest itself, as well as expand it by building galleries and tunnels. 

Galleries are the different rooms of the nest, which are connected by tunnels. In addition to building, workers bring food to and feed the other castes, as well as care for the eggs and larvae. They generally live 1 to 2 years.

Soldiers, like workers, are blind and wingless. They are larger than workers, but their heads are what really set them apart. Their heads are large, elongated, and darker in color. They also have prominent pincers.

Soldier termites are really only responsible for one thing- protecting the colony. If an enemy is nearby, soldiers will rush to plug up the ends of tunnels to prevent invasions. If direct contact is necessary, they use their strong pincers to fight off intruders, which are usually ants.  

Reproductives are the most unique of the three castes. Unlike workers and soldiers, they have eyes, wings, and the ability to reproduce. Reproductives can be separated into four different groups:

  • Alates are reproductives that still have their full-grown wings. They are the termites that swarm.
  • De-alates are reproductives that have found a mate and a place to start a new colony, and have shed their wings.
  • Queens and kings are the main reproductives. They mate and take care of their first few batches of eggs. Once there are enough new termites to take care of the eggs, the queen and king of a colony are only responsible for mating and laying more eggs.
  • Neotenics are like the queen’s assistants. They aid in egg laying when the queen’s production decreases. When the queen dies, a neotenic takes her place.

termite-castes

Swarming

Termites swarm in order to find a mate and a place to start a new colony with their mate. Swarms happen at different times of year depending on weather and species. Drywood and dampwood termites typically swarm during late summer into fall, generally from August to November. 

Subterranean termites swarm in different months depending on what type they are. Some swarm in April, others swarm in May, and still others swarm between August and November. 

The timing of swarms depends on weather conditions. For instance, some types of termites prefer more moisture than others and will swarm after a rain.

Reproduction

After a swarm, each pair of new mates has found a place to build their nest. At this time, the alates shed their wings to become de-alates and get to work building their colony. 

They build a room for egg production, which their whole nest will later be built around. Then, they mate and begin egg production, beginning the life cycle of a new generation of termites.

A queen lays relatively few eggs during her first year of production. As time goes on, though, she can lay more and more eggs. Eventually she can lay up to 1,000 eggs a day. Queens live for many years, so a single queen can lay hundreds of thousands of eggs during her lifetime! 

Well, you’ve got to hand it to termites; as pesky and damaging as they can be, they sure are organized! From multi-roomed nests, to castes, to collectively knowing the colony’s needs, a termite’s life cycle is nothing if not efficient. Still, it is important to get rid of them as early as possible in order to avoid too much damage. If you see any signs of termites around your home or business, call one of our professionals right away.