Termites are small soft bodied insects, which many people call “white ants”, however, though they look similar, they are not related. There are many different termite species in Malaysia, some are important recyclers of dead and decaying timber, others feed on grasses, only a few cause economic damage.
These species are subterranean, they constantly forage and evaluate the size and quality of food resources as they seek out cellulose, the primary component of wood.
Termites live and work together in large groups known as colonies. They are divided into various groups known as castes; the Queen, king, soldiers, workers and alates.
The Queen is the reproductive source of the colony; she ensures replenishment and further growth of the colony.
The workers, which are the predominant caste, are the providers to the colony, they constantly forage for food and moisture, they are responsible for the damage caused to timber and cellulose based materials.
The soldiers defend the colony and are usually the source of identification for professional pest controller, when trying to determine the specific species and assess the risk factor when termites are encountered.
The alates are the winged termites (future kings and queens), which are released at appropriate times to establish new colonies.
KING & QUEEN
At least one King and Queen are at the centre of every termite colony. The Queen’s sole purpose is to reproduce. Some live for as long as 30 years. The queen may lay as many as 3,000 eggs per day.
While in the nymph state, termites diverge into different castes: workers, soldiers, reproductives and supplementary reproductives.
Workers are blind, wingless termites that maintain the colony, build and repair the nest and earthen shelter tubes, forage for food, and care for the other termites. They are the most numerous caste and the most likely to be found in infested wood.
Soldiers are sterile, wingless and blind. Their sole function is to defend the colonoy. Some do this with fierce and sabre like mandibles. Others have specially modified syringe type heads and they rely upon chemical warfare, shooting out sticky “ropes”.
These termites will eventually leave the colony as adult “Swarmers”. After swarming, they shed their wings and pair up. Each male-female pair attempts to start a new colony.
These termites help increase the number of termites in the colony if the Queen declines in health or dies. They are replacement Queens but they are not as productive as the original Queen.