Termites are social insects and live in colonies containing a number of different castes. Each caste has a different form and function from the others; each is vital to the viability of the colony. In general terms the life history of all the economically important subterranean species is similar. Alates On a warm, humid evening large numbers of winged male and female termites, the “alates” or “primary reproductives”, are released by the colony. A small number survive the flight, drop their two parts distinctive, equal sized wings, pair off, mate, and if they can find a suitable location, start a new colony. Queen As the other castes take over the running of the colony the young queen of most species becomes “physogastric” – her abdomen distends to many times its original size and she becomes an egg laying machine, laying up to 1000 eggs per day. She is confined to her royal chamber, tended and fed by the workers and regularly fertilised by the male reproductive. Nursery The eggs are removed from the royal chamber and transferred to a nursery by the workers. Here the brood (the eggs and nymphs) develop into the other castes that the colony requires for development and survival; workers, soldiers and primary or secondary reproductives. Soldiers and Workers Soldiers and workers are blind and sterile termites. The workers carry out the work of the colony and are responsible for gathering the food the colony needs. In most species, the heads of the soldiers are uniquely armoured and equipped to allow them to defend the colony against attack, notably ants.
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