In a termite colony, there are several castes. Workers search for food, without stop, and bring that food back to their colony. Soldiers protect the colony from ants and other bugs that may make themselves a threat to their home. The queen produces babies and the king helps with fertilization. The king will also tend to the young termites' needs. You are not likely to see any of these termites because they live in the ground or inside the wood of your home. The only termite caste that you are likely to see is termite swarmers. These are male and female reproductive alates that are made to leave the colony and become the queens and kings of new colonies. There are many species of termite, but we're going to focus on the group of termites that do the most damage to homes: subterranean termites. Let's take a look at each of the castes in a subterranean termite colony and see how we can tell them apart.
These are the most abundant type of termite you will find in a nest. You're not likely to see them, however, unless you are pulling out a wall in your home, digging deep into the soil of your yard, or ripping up an old stump. Worker termites need moisture to live, and this forces them to hide from the drying effects of the air and sun. If you do see worker termites, you are likely to see lots of them. There can be hundreds, and even thousands of worker termites in a single colony.
It can be startling when termite workers are discovered because these creatures look like maggots from a distance, but crawl around like ants do. You aren't likely to mistake them for ants though. While termites and ants are both insects, termites do not have three distinct body parts like that of an ant. The thorax and the abdomen of the termite blend together and look like one. Workers are tan to pale in color, have six legs, two antennae, and are only a few millimeters in length.
This caste of termite is much less common in a termite colony. While they are called soldiers, they act more like gate guards. They will usually be found guarding the entrance to tunnels so that nothing gets in. They do this by stuffing their big head into the entrance or by squirting out a sticky white substance from the fontanelle (a pore in its head) to hold invaders in place.
The major distinction between workers and soldiers is the large head. The soldier’s head is much larger than a worker's head, darker orange, and has two dark brown mandibles on the front that are used for battle.
When a termite colony matures, it begins to create male and female winged reproductives called alates. These termites do not look or act like other termites in the colony--nor should they. These are the caste of termite that will become the queens and kings of another colony. They are royalty.
Alates are dark-brown to black, and they are between ¼ of inch and ½ inch in length. The most noticeable feature of a termite swarmer is its large white wings that are twice the size of its body. These wings stack on top of each other and are rounded at the end, instead of in a cleft like the wings of flying ants.
When male and female reproductives mate, they lose their wings and get to work on building their colony. The king will just look like an alate without its wings, but the queen will have a unique look to her. As she produces offspring, her abdomen will grow larger and larger.
You are most likely not going to see termites until they have already done damage to your home; so visual identification is not an effective way to protect you from these wood destroying pests. If you need help developing a termite barrier that will safeguard your equity from these damaging pests, the termite specialists here at ChemTec would be happy to assist you!