Bullet Termite Biology


1. The individuals are long lived

2. The colony is self-perpetuating

3. They have a constant source of food

4. They are social insects and thus cooperate


5. They are protected from extremes of heat and cold and from their enemies by their cryptobiotic mode of life: all of which results in constant increase in destructive powers. A termite is an insect with body segments consisting of a, head, thorax and abdomen; four equalized wings, with six legs attached to the thorax and with a pair of beaded antennae. Of the major constituents of wood, cellulose is readily digested by the enzymes of protozoa living in the digestive tracts of termites, whereas lignin is entirely indigestible, so that wood with high lignin contents is invariable avoided. Sapwood is more attractive than heartwood. The lower intestine of the termite contains a swarming mass of one-celled protozoa. These minute protozoa contain enzymes, which digest the wood fragments. If their protozoa are removed, the termites die of starvation. The highly specialized king, queen, soldiers and the first instars depend upon nymphs and workers for their feeding. If these dependent individuals are isolated, they starve since they are unable to feed themselves.

Subterranean termites aid in the dissemination of fungi and they provide shelter and humid atmosphere so necessary to fungi. Fungi render certain services to the termites:

1. The fungus provides moisture for the termite when consumed.

2. Fungi may be of some value to termites in the preliminary softening of wood.

3. Fungi provide a supply of protein and vitamins for the termite.

Termites clean themselves by licking or grooming one another. This results in each termite consuming the secretions of the other. While the grooming is going on, the termites exchange nourishment by mouth. This exchange of nourishment is known as trophallaxis.

Termites have a caste system in their colonies. Subterranean termites have reproductives, workers and soldiers and swarmers whereas dampwood and drywood termites lack a true worker caste, their immature nymphs do the work of the colony. The reproductive caste consists of male and female. The male termite mates throughout his life with the queen. These reproductives swarm at certain times of the year. Subterranean termites swarm both in the spring and the fall whereas the main swarming of drywoods occurs in the late summer to early fall. Swarming of subterranean termites occurs usually just after a rain when the sun shines brightly.

The average soldier or worker lives only two or three years but queens may live much longer.

There may be several supplementary queens in each colony. These supplementary queens readily replace the primary queens when the latter die or are injured. The supplementaries are important because they rapidly increase the termite population. Termites as a rule avoid light and seek narrow cracks and crevices. The winged reproductives before swarming may wait three months or more for correct atmospheric conditions, especially as far as temperature and humidity are concerned.

The alates or winged reproductives then completely reverse their instincts and seek light and open spaces. The flight is short and weak. The termite wings break off at a fracture point, the termites pair off, mate, and form a new colony. The worker is the form which does all of the work of the colony such as constructing tunnels, excavating chambers, obtaining food, cultivating fungus gardens, feeding the young, the soldiers and the king and the queen. The sole purpose of the soldier termite is that of defense of the colony particularly against their archenemy, the ant.

Termites are world wide in distribution but are absent from the arctic and antarctic areas. Some 1,800 species of termites have been identified. There are approximately 45 species in the United States.

Termites have broad waists and moniliform or bead-like antennae. Ants have narrow waists and elbowed antennae.