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Termites

Reproductives

There are two reproductive castes providing for the continuation of the species. The primary reproductive caste—known as alates—consists of potential kings and queens. At a specific time each year, depending on the species and environment, a swarm of these alates leaves the original nest to start a new colony. The vast majority of swarming alates fall prey to birds, bats, lizards, snakes, and ants. When the male and female alates land, they shed their wings and look for mates. Once the pairing occurs, they run on the ground in tandem, the female ahead of the male, looking for the site on which to build their new nest.

The supplementary reproductives develop functional reproductive organs but never leave the parent colony. Their purpose is to act as substitutes for the king or queen if either or both dies. Further, female reproductives can supplement the queen's egg-laying volume, should her egg-laying capacity prove insufficient to maintain the colony.

The nesting location chosen by the alates is highly dependent upon the particular species of termite. Some species prefer to nest in the ground, while others prefer to nest in wood. Regardless of the nest, the pair digs a chamber, closes it off from the outside world, and never leaves it again. The pair mates in the chamber, and the female lays the eggs. Her first laying contains relatively few eggs. The young king and queen care for their larvae for four to six months. During this period, wood termites get the sustenance they need from the wood in their nests, while soil termites feed their young with the excess fat stored in their own bodies and by digesting their now-useless wing muscles.

Newly hatched termite larvae are tiny, measuring about 0. 08 in (2 mm) in length. Their coats are colorless and their bodies are soft. Furthermore, they are blind; their main sensory organs are their antennae, but they also have a series of small receptors situated on their heads.

After hatching, the young termites—or nymphs—have the general appearance of adult termites. They continue to grow and molt at intervals. After several stages of development, some finally become sexually mature individuals with wings. Others either become workers or soldiers. Both the workers and the soldiers—which are usually blind, and always infertile and wingless—are the result of specialized, incomplete development.


Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Swim bladder (air bladder) to ThalliumTermites - Caste System, Reproductives, Workers, Soldiers, The Mature Colony