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Termite Caste System

THE TERMITE CASTE SYSTEM

A termite colony has a caste system with members working together to achieve the common goal for the survival and advancement of the colony. There can be hundreds of thousands to several million termites in established colonies, each spreading out to establish additional sub colonies. Each member of the caste has its own special job that it must perform within the termite colony in order for the colony to survive.

The order and population of a termite caste system is regulated by the use of pheromones.  The king and queen produce a special pheromone that circulates throughout the colony and is the mechanism for controlling growth and reproduction.  Populations are maintained by pheromones which rise and fall following the death or expansion of the termites. Changes to the corresponding pheromones triggers additional worker termites to molt into adults capable of reproduction, or excessive numbers of soldiers and reproductive termites being killed by the workers.

Worker termites form the largest group within the termite caste. This group consists of both males and females and is solely in charge of all the labor involved in development or maintenance of the colony.  Workers are responsible for the damage that occurs to structures, and the formation of tunnels used to increase the size and reach of the colony. The worker caste is also in charge of feeding and caring for the young. Juvenile worker termites have the ability to undergo molts and become soldier or reproductive termites, but the majority will remain as workers for the duration of their lives, normally spanning one to two years. Worker termites are sterile, wingless and blind creatures with soft bodies and will remain in dark and moist environments where they are protected and hidden from view.

Members from the soldier cast are found in fewer numbers than worker termites, but are soldier termites are larger in size. Members of the soldier caste are the defenders of the colony and have large powerful jaws to fend off attackers. For some species, the soldier termite has a specialized weapon that comes in the form of a nozzle on their head that they use to shoot a defensive chemical which repels invaders. Soldiers are also wingless, blind and contain both male and female counterparts. They are unable to feed themselves or care for themselves and must rely on the workers to survive. Soldier termites also have a lifespan of approximately one to two years.

The reproductive cast will always include a king and a queen, which serve as the parents and founders of the colony. The king and queen are the only adult insects within the colony. The queen termite can lay upwards of 1000 eggs per day which will emerge as future workers or soldiers termites. Some species of termite also have a few supplemental reproductives which can also share egg laying duties.  In every mature colony, some of these termites will become juvenile reproductives known as alates that take their annual mating flight and form pairs, which then fly off and create sub colonies of their own, starting the process once again and spreading the infestation further.

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