Inside a termite colony
In India, everyone has that one relative who lives in an old family house with an attic. I have such a relative in Indore and on one such trip there.
I wondered into the old attic with old wooden furniture, which they thought was a good idea of storing rather than disposing of.
Well, I am enthusiastic about insects (it’s not gross), and there on the old decaying wooden furniture were several colonies of hungry termites eagerly feasting.
Small and smart like an ant, body like a cockroach, with sharp pincers are an adamant form of insect belonging to the Blattodea order.
These insects form colonies and thrive on a dictator like a regime within each colony.
These colonies fascinate me because ‘order and hierarchy’ is imbibed into the primal instincts of these little buggers.
They form colonies with a king and a queen, and nobody dares to cross them, not because they are royalty but just for the sake of the primal instinct of survival.
The King and the Queen are responsible for the reproduction, sustenance and the prosperity of the colony.
They secrete pheromones which prevent the worker termites from maturing into adults.
These hormones create a scent which signals to mate, this process is followed in almost every bisexual organism.
The Queen is responsible for reproducing by laying the eggs, she might sometimes allow secondary queens, a process of letting some immature females mature, to lay eggs so as to reach a number required for a thriving colony.
Termite colonies usually mature in around six years in a subterranean climate.
During this time Alates, also called swarmers, are produced which are on an average a 1/4” in size and pale-reddish/brown/black in color.
These swarmers take their mating flight during late winter or early spring in order to build their own colony.
These insects are not designed for long term flying so they usually land near their old nests but sometimes they may be carried to great distances in a wind stream.
During the mating flight, the male and female swarmers leave the nest with other winged termites in order to increase their chances of survival.
A lot of these swarmers are eaten by birds, frogs, lizards or spiders.
The female alate releases a pheromone to attract the male and then the couple burrow into areas where the soil is moist to begin nesting.
They then create their royal chamber from the soil, saliva and their excretions. The mating then begins where the female usually lays around six to twelve eggs within a few days.
The male also sheds its wings once the nest is created and the couple spend the rest of their lives in their royal chambers with the worker termites feeding them.
Where there are winged termites, there is a colony nearby and these colonies can vary from two (king and queen) to millions.
The termite colonies are divided into several types:
The worker termites: These don’t have wings and do all the chores from taking care of the eggs and infants to looking for food, feeding the royalty and maintaining the colony structure. These are usually sterile males and form the largest part of the colony.
The soldier termites: As the name suggests, these are the army that defends the colony against predators and outside threats. They are larger than the worker termites. They can be differentiated based on their darker heads and larger mandibles (pincers).
The Royalty: The queen is distinctly larger than the worker termites by several times, the main task is to reproduce and she is the largest termite in the colony. The King and Queen can live up to 20–25 years but in case of death of either there a few who can replace them.
The Swarmers/Alates: These are the reproducers and initially have two pair of wings which are shed when they establish their nest.
The Sub-colony: The sub-colonies are formed by the swarmers based on the size, these colonies sometimes have their own reproducers and grow at a rapid rate so as to develop themselves into an independent colony.
This is why termites fascinate me, the detail, the hierarchy and the discipline created just for the sake of survival, Hitler would have been satisfied if he reincarnated as a termite!
Before putting it here many told me this sounds interesting but only to read, regular pest control will make sure that our life is disciplined and healthy as well.