Termites, popularly called “white ants”, are in fact from time immemorial related to cockroaches. With the ants, their similarity is only in that they lead the same social insects, they also build nests communicating with each other, creating in them numerous families. The termite family is similarly divided into castes, as in the case of ants, where each has its own role. Cockroaches have no such distinctive qualities.
Most termites live in countries with dry or humid tropical and subtropical climates. In large numbers, they can be found on the territory of the south of Ukraine and Kazakhstan, Moldova, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and partly in Tajikistan. Termite in Russia is chosen by the zone of the Far East. It was in these countries of the former CIS that the greatest harm caused by termites to the woodworking economy and private wooden buildings was noted.
The family of termites is divided into 3 main castes: workers, soldiers and the reproductive group.
- Workers. Unlike ants, in this group termites include individuals of both sexes (in ants only females). Their body is small in size, only about 1 cm, softer. The thoracic department is less developed, the eyes are atrophied or they may not be at all. The sexual organs are underdeveloped or absent. The color of the working ants is white. Since it is they who, more often than the rest of the castes, come out of the nest for food and come to their eyes, termites and were mistakenly called “white ants”.
- Soldiers. This group of termites is easy to distinguish from others due to the color of the head: it can be yellow, orange, reddish-brown or almost black. On the large head is a “horn” with poison (in some species), which the soldiers squirt out in case of necessary protection. They also have one more weapon – powerful mandibles (jaws), which are very prominent forward and distinguish soldiers from other castes. Having felt a bite with such zhvalami, the enemy (from insects) can and change his mind to continue the attack.
- Reproductive group. Termites that can reproduce have a dark color, well developed eyes and 2 pairs of wings. Wings will only need them once in their life – for a flight during the mating period, after which the termites drop them. But the main thing in this group is the womb (otherwise – the queen or the queen) and the king. The queen can reach huge sizes for termites – 10 cm. This is possible due to the elastic abdomen, capable of repeatedly stretching during the period of bearing eggs (and it lasts almost constantly). The king, next to the queen, looks like a toddler, not much different in size from the representatives of the other two castes.
In general, adult termites do not have a constriction between the abdomen and the thoracic region, in contrast to the ants.
It is quite difficult to see termites, because they do not like to creep out into the light and lead a predominantly nocturnal lifestyle. Their movement occurs mainly in their own moves under the ground or inside the tree. These numerous tunnels – a kind of connection between the chambers of one nest or several neighboring termites. Due to such secrecy, it is already too late to notice the damage caused by termites, when a wooden structure is rendered unusable due to the many holes and strokes made by termites inside it.
The main termite diet is cellulose in any form and in general everything that is made of wood. They eat dry rubbish, and plants with a tree-like stalk, and cardboard, and paper. An additional source of food can serve even linen, woolen and cotton fabrics, leather products and felt. But these termites are not eaten with such eagerness.
In nature, termites are eaten by rotten stumps and trees (dead trees do not threaten termites), dry stems of cereals, dead branches and fallen leaves. The intestines of these insects contain cellulose-destroying bacteria that break down the wood and transform it into acetate. Further digestion is carried out by other protozoa, also living in the intestines of termites. The resulting acetate and nitrogen are isolated by insects together with excrement and serve as a fertilizer for forest soils.
In the winter, termites lose their activity, but, having settled down in heated wooden houses, continue their activity all year round.
The number of termites can range from several tens to millions of individuals, and each of them has a “position”.
Workers are responsible for feeding and caring for the offspring and the king with the queen, storing food, developing the young, building and repairing the nest. They also feed soldiers whose huge jaws do not allow them to eat on their own, so they feed on defenders only with the help of “servants”. In short, termites are a kind of “service” that provides a variety of services to the rest of the family.
Soldiers are the protection of the colony. They guard the family from ants and other enemies, using their powerful jaws or a horn with poison. The action of the splashed out poison, which dries up in the air, has a paralytic effect, forcing the enemy to move for a while. In the case of partial destruction of the nest by the enemy, soldiers with their large heads block holes in narrow passages and remain in this position while workers close the hole. Often the soldiers themselves are “immured” and can no longer get out of the trap in which they found themselves, defending their nest.
Soldiers, in turn, also have their own “units”. Large individuals protect the nest (they stop the heads of damage to the nest), the middle ones serve as a kind of rear, while the small ones act as “supervisors”, watching the workers, urging them and punishing them if necessary. There are among the termites of the soldiers and the guard and signal service. Numerous guards are vigilant to see if the danger threatens the nest, and in the event of an enemy, they give a signal to the signalmen, who, in turn, notify the main army of the threat. And then already termite fighters come out in orderly ranks to defend their home and their families.
About the nests
The nests of these insects have a different structure and location and size. They can be grounded underground and communicate among themselves thanks to a multitude of tunnels, reminiscent of huge galleries. Sometimes termites appear in the form of gloomy pillar-like structures on the surface of the earth.
The nest is built by working individuals from a clay-like mass obtained as a result of mixing their own excrement and saliva with earth and wood. The walls of such a termite are quite dense, and to destroy it, the enemy will need some effort. The size of the nest depends directly on how large a colony resides in it at the moment.
Inside any kind of nest, countless chambers are built to store food reserves and develop and grow offspring. The most reliable camera is rightfully given to the royal couple, responsible for the addition of the family.
The king and the queen are responsible for the reproduction in the termite. Their pair is inseparable, they do not change their partners, and even live their whole life together in the same strong cell (unlike the ants, the termite king does not die after mating). Moreover, to “pozaritsya” on the queen, none of the other members of the family has any right. The Tsar’s couple is constantly under reliable protection of soldiers, replacing the post at regular intervals.
Being almost constantly in the state of “pregnancy”, the uterus swollen and enlarged 10 times, full of eggs, is unable to move because of the gravity it carries in itself. And then all the same workers come to the rescue, who deliver her food, wear her, lick the mucus secreted by the queen from her abdomen, and every few seconds move the withdrawn eggs to special numerous chambers for storage and further hatching. The Queen is incredibly prolific: only a day she is able to demolish up to 3,000 eggs. The main female lives for about 10 years, having managed to give offspring estimated in millions. During this time, many members of the family (especially soldiers) are killed, but the uterus not only replenishes the losses, but also exaggerates the number of individuals of the colony.
But except for the king and queen, in the nest there are other individuals capable of giving offspring. Prior to reaching sexual maturity, they live in a nest where they were once born. At the end of spring – early summer, the swarming period begins, winged young birds create pairs and fly away from their parents’ house. This is the only time when they need wings: immediately after mating, the future “parents” discard them. Left without wings, these termites become completely defenseless against all sorts of enemies – spiders, birds, etc. Therefore, they are forced to temporarily hide. Those couples who managed to survive create their own nest and become a king and queen in it. With the advent of the first workers, the construction of a new termitek begins.
Enemies of the termites
During the departure of young pairs of termites from the nest, when they become defenseless, danger awaits them everywhere. Lizards, birds, ants (especially fire), dragonflies and spiders happily indulge in such prey. Some predators do not wait for the departure of defenseless individuals, but go straight to the termite, in the hope of a rich “catch”.
But dangerous for termites are not only “petty” enemies. In nature, they are eagerly catered by anteaters (in South America), tube-toots (in Africa), armadillos (in South, Central and North America) and pangolins (in South and equatorial Africa, in southeast Asia). These large predators destroy the termite, despite the tight clay walls, and eat the hosts, significantly reducing the number of termites. If they manage to get to the chamber of the king and queen, the colony will be doomed to extinction.