termite

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termite

or

white ant,

common name for a soft-bodied social insect of the infraorder Isoptera. Originally classified in as a separate order, termites are genetically related to cockroachescockroach
or roach,
name applied to some 4,600 species of flat-bodied, oval insects in the order Blattodea. Cockroaches have long antennae, long legs adapted to running, and a flat extension of the upper body wall that conceals the head. They range from 1-4 in. to 3 in.
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 and are now usually classified with them in the order Blattodea. Termites are easily distinguished from ants by comparison of the base of the abdomen, which is broadly joined to the thorax in termites; in ants, there is only a slender connection (petiole) joining these segments. In addition, the antennae of termites are beadlike or threadlike, while ant antennae are elbowed. Termites have chewing mouthparts. They feed chiefly on wood, from which they obtain cellulose. In primitive species cellulose is converted into various sugars by specialized gut protozoans and in the more highly evolved termites by specialized bacteria living symbiotically in the termite's digestive tract. Termites undergo gradual metamorphosis (see insectinsect,
invertebrate animal of the class Insecta of the phylum Arthropoda. Like other arthropods, an insect has a hard outer covering, or exoskeleton, a segmented body, and jointed legs. Adult insects typically have wings and are the only flying invertebrates.
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). The nearly 2,000 species are mostly tropical, and some build huge mounds to house their colonies. These mounds, up to 40 ft (12.2 m) high, are a characteristic feature of the landscape in parts of Africa and Australia.

Termite Colonies and Castes

Termite colonies are composed of three castes; the reproductives (kings and queens), the soldiers, and the workers. The kings and queens are sexually mature termites, with compound eyes and fully developed wings. The workers and soldiers lack wings and compound eyes. Sexually mature termites, or reproductives, are produced in large numbers during certain seasons and leave the colony in a swarm. They are poor fliers, and most are eaten by birds and other animals.

When the surviving termites settle, their wings break off along a weakened seam at the base. They then form pairs, each of which establishes a new colony. A couple excavates a chamber in wood or soil, in which they mate; they remain permanently paired, and the queen eventually produces as many as 30,000 eggs per day. Two or three weeks after mating, the young nymphs hatch and are fed on liquid secreted by the parents and on fecal wastes, from which they obtain the protozoan or bacterial symbionts essential for life.

The caste into which the young termite, or nymph, develops is dependent upon the amount of growth-inhibiting substance (a pheromone) passed to it during feeding and grooming. The pheromone is secreted by the reproductives and, when present in a high enough concentration, prevents the development of nymphs into reproductives. (A large colony may have several pairs of reproductives.) As more workers and soldiers are added, since they do not produce the pheromone, its concentration in the colony is correspondingly decreased. Therefore when the colony reaches a certain size, some of the nymphs begin to develop into reproductives, which then produce pheromones. This phenomenon also occurs if the original reproductives die. The increase in the pheromone level prevents the maturation of additional nymphs into reproductives; these remaining nymphs then become workers. In a similar way, the appearance of soldiers appears to inhibit the production of more soldiers.

In some families of termites, no workers develop, and the nymphs perform worker functions, which include feeding the royal couple, the soldiers, and the very young nymphs; caring for the eggs; grooming the queen; constructing and repairing the nest; and foraging for food. The soldiers have heads as large as the rest of the body and equipped with strong mandibles used in defense of the colony. They attack any intruders to the colony and stand guard at the entrances, in some species closing the entrances by putting their heads in the holes. Soldiers of certain species squirt a sticky, poisonous secretion at enemies.

Damage by Termites

The termites that cause the greatest damage for dwellings typically belong to the family Rhinotermitidae, the soil dwellers, or subterranean, termites. The Formosan termite, a more aggressive species than the U.S. species, was discovered in the United States in 1965 along the Gulf and in Atlantic port cities. Soil dwellers attack only wood that is in contact with the ground or close enough to be reached through enclosed earthen runways, which are connected to the termite's underground galleries. Treatment of soil, use of treated wood, or shielding with metal and concrete are among the methods used to prevent entry of termites into buildings. Drywood termites, of the family Kalotermitedae, do not require as high a humidity as do soil dwellers and will attack trees, fence posts, stumps, and wooden buildings. Although they can cause significant damage, they tend to establish smaller colonies.

Classification

Termites are classified in the phylum ArthropodaArthropoda
[Gr.,=jointed feet], largest and most diverse animal phylum. The arthropods include crustaceans, insects, centipedes, millipedes, spiders, scorpions, and the extinct trilobites.
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, class Insecta, order Blattodea, infraorder Isoptera.

Bibliography

For information on prevention and control of termites, see publications of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture or State Extension Service.

Termite

A wood-devouring insect that eats the woodwork of a structure, which can ruin a building; resembling ants in appearance and in their habit of living in colonies.

termite

[′tər‚mīt]
(invertebrate zoology)
A soft-bodied insect of the order Isoptera; individuals feed on cellulose and live in colonies with a caste system comprising three types of functional individuals: sterile workers and soldiers, and the reproductives. Also known as white ant.

termite

any whitish ant-like social insect of the order Isoptera, of warm and tropical regions. Some species feed on wood, causing damage to furniture, buildings, trees, etc.
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