There are three main types of adults: reproductives, soldiers, and workers. The reproductives include the king and queen which produce the eggs. The soldiers protect the colony from attackers such as ants. Workers are the heart of the colony. They clean and care for all the other termites and forage for food such as wood and paper products. When a colony is several years old and large, it may produce another form of adult termite called swarmer.
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The winged reproductive adult termite, swarmers are the ones most often seen by public and someone will see them near a light source and indicates that a nest must be near. Swarmers have four wings, are often brown or black, and range in size from approximately 1/4 to 3/8 inch. Swarmers are the way that a colony will send out new kings and queens to start colonies of their own. In the spring, great numbers of swarmers can fly from a colony.
During early spring, swarmers may be noticed in infested buildings. These dark-colored, winged termites are the stage most commonly seen, since the other castes do not expose themselves to light. Winged termites are attracted to light, and when they emerge within buildings, they swarm about doors and windows. After crawling or fluttering about for a short time, the termites break off their wings and locate a mate. They attempt to locate moist wood in contact with the soil so as to start a new colony, but few of them succeed. The beginning of a termite’s life is marked when the queen hatches eggs. Depending on the size of the colony, the queen can hatch between a few hundred and few thousand eggs per day. The egg stage of the termite life cycle lasts for about 30 days. After that the eggs hatch into larvae, which are immature young termites unable to feed themselves. Mature workers also help to feed the larvae. The king and queen determine whether these larvae are to develop into workers, soldiers or nymphs. Workers are the most important insects of the colony. They are responsible for foraging, food storage, feeding the queen and defense. They are mainly the ones who digest cellulose. Most of the termites that are seen eating wood are worker termites. Once termites reach the worker stage, they cannot grow any further. The lifespan of a worker termite is 1 to 2 years. The soldier termites are responsible for defending the colony against invaders. Very common invaders are the ants. Soldier termites cannot eat, so they require worker termites to provide them with food. Worker termites and soldier termites are sterile, and soldier termites generally live for 1 to 2 years.
Swarmers are the most visible form of termite. Usually a homeowner realizes termites are present in their home when a swarmer is seen. Swarming termites can be confused with many ants. Subterranean termites usually live underground, excavating passageways to reach wood. Their passageways can be quite complex, extending 10 feet underground. The soil provides a source of moisture that protects the termites from drying and from predators. The soil also provides building materials for the protective shelter tubes the termites use to forage for wood above the ground.