Termites are social insects. They have a well developed social order which is controlled by a Queen. The other members of a termite colony or castes are a king, workers, soldiers, reproductive and alates. All of these castes contribute in individual ways to growth of a colony. Each colony can contain up to 1 million termites.
The oldest known termite fossils date back to the Cretaceous Period, or between 150 and 65 million years ago, and judging by their diversity then, they had already been around for some time. In other words, they have been around for a very long time. There are around 4000 species of termite alive today, which are dispersed around the world between 50 degrees north and 50 degrees south, though the greatest mass of them are found in the tropical regions, like Queensland due to the large amounts of food matter generated in these regions.
Though the termites most people know about live inside and destroy homes, termites are incredible builders as well. The mounds that some species build are incredible. Rising over the deserts they inhabit up to nine metres in some cases. These beautiful mounds can be found in the savannas of central Australia and are built by different species than those that have wrecked havoc on Australian homes.
The termites that are causing so much trouble across our country have been in Australia for a very long time and have only become a real problem as more of the native forests have been cut down. Now they have had to move into inhabited areas to find food.
Role of Termite Queen
A queen termite is the sole egg layer for the entire termite colony. She and her king are the two alates, or flying termites, who find a new colony. Once they have found a suitable site they have a nuptial flight during which they mate for the first time, then they lose their wings and settle down to build their colony. Though the male king will only grow to be slightly larger than the average termite, the queen will undergo a dramatic morphological change. Her abdomen will grow to a massive size, up to around 30 centimetres on average, and she will then be capable of producing 2000 eggs a day. She and the king can live for up to 25 years, supplying their colony with tens of millions of offspring.
Because of the queens enormous abdomen, she is unable to move or do anything for herself. The queen has a dedicated retinue of workers who clean and feed her. Her body is tougher than other termites and darker in colour; she is armed for protection as she is the life blood of the colony. The queen and her king live in a royal apartment that they can never leave as the doors are far too small for either of them to get through.
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