Like most other insects, termites start out as eggs and progress through stages as a nymph and finally an adult. This is an example of gradual metamorphosis where the young insect resembles the adult. Termites are unique because they can develop into various forms of reproductive and non-reproductive adults. An understanding of the life cycle of termites can aid in their elimination and prevention.
These winged reproductive termites (alates) are born dark in color and with two pairs of wings. In the spring, these termites leave their colonies at maturity and take flight in search of a mate to reproduce. Swarmers can often be seen swarming, and this is the time they may emerge inside homes and buildings. Once they have mated, they land on the ground, shed their wings, and find a place to start a new colony either underground or above ground.
The swarmers become kings (males) or queens (reproductive females) over their newly established colony. The fertilized queen lays eggs, which can be as many as a dozen. After a few weeks, the eggs hatch into larvae that are pale and white. The larvae molt (shed skin) three times growing into a young nymph, older nymph, and finally one of three castes (types): workers, soldiers, and swarmers. Queens are known to live for as long as a decade and can reproduce throughout their lifetime.
Workers do just as their name implies, they work. They are the termites in the colony who are responsible for building tunnels and chambers, as well as feeding and grooming other termites. If the colony experiences a shortage of other caste types (e.g., soldiers or reproductives), workers can develop into what’s needed. Workers live for approximately one to two years. This caste member is the one who does all of the damage; therefore, they are the most important ones to get rid of to stop infestations.
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Soldiers, as it’s easy to guess, are responsible for protecting the colony. They can be distinguished from the other caste members by their yellow-brown color. They also have a very large head and mandibles used to fight off predators. Because they can’t feed themselves due to the large size of their mandibles, they rely on worker termites. Like workers, they typically live for one to two years but can change into a worker or reproductive as the colony needs.
Termites can exist in a number of forms. While confusing, it pays to know a little about their life cycle. Some insects are best eliminated by finding their eggs. With termites, it’s best to find and eliminate workers because they do most of the damage.