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Termites

To the DIY exterminator it is still a good idea to learn more about your culprit, so here is some information about the termite that may be useful in your duties to rid them from your existence.

Termites are eusocial insects that are classified at the taxonomic rank of infraorder Isoptera, or as epifamily Termitoidae within the cockroach order Blattodea. Termites were once classified in a separate order from cockroaches, but recent phylogenetic studies indicate that they evolved from close ancestors of cockroaches during the Jurassic or Triassic. However, the first termites possibly emerged during the Permian or even the Carboniferous. About 3,106 species are currently described, with a few hundred more left to be described. Although these insects are often called "white ants", they are not ants.

Like ants and some bees and wasps from the separate order Hymenoptera, termites divide labor among castes consisting of sterile male and female "workers" and "soldiers". All colonies have fertile males called "kings" and one or more fertile females called "queens". Termites mostly feed on dead plant material and cellulose, generally in the form of wood, leaf litter, soil, or animal dung. Termites are major detritivores, particularly in the subtropical and tropical regions, and their recycling of wood and plant matter is of considerable ecological importance.

Termites are among the most successful groups of insects on Earth, colonizing most landmasses except for Antarctica. Their colonies range in size from a few hundred individuals to enormous societies with several million individuals. Termite queens have the longest lifespan of any insect in the world, with some queens reportedly living up to 30 to 50 years. Unlike ants, which undergo a complete metamorphosis, each individual termite goes through an incomplete metamorphosis that proceeds through egg, nymph, and adult stages. Colonies are described as superorganisms because the termites form part of a self-regulating entity: the colony itself.

Termites are a delicacy in the diet of some human cultures and are used in many traditional medicines. Several hundred species are economically significant as pests that can cause serious damage to buildings, crops, or plantation forests. Some species, such as the West Indian drywood termite (Cryptotermes brevis), are regarded as invasive species.

Termites are found on all continents except Antarctica. The diversity of termite species is low in North America and Europe (10 species known in Europe and 50 in North America), but is high in South America, where over 400 species are known. Of the 3,000-termite species currently classified, 1,000 are found in Africa, where mounds are extremely abundant in certain regions. Approximately 1.1 million active termite mounds can be found in the northern Kruger National Park alone. In Asia, there are 435 species of termites, which are mainly distributed in China. Within China, termite species are restricted to mild tropical and subtropical habitats south of the Yangtze River. In Australia, all ecological groups of termites (dampwood, drywood, subterranean) are endemic to the country, with over 360 classified species.

Due to their soft cuticles, termites do not inhabit cool or cold habitats. There are three ecological groups of termites: dampwood, drywood and subterranean. Dampwood termites are found only in coniferous forests, and drywood termites are found in hardwood forests; subterranean termites live in widely diverse areas. One species in the drywood group is the West Indian drywood termite (Cryptotermes brevis), which is an invasive species in Australia.

Termites are often compared with the social Hymenoptera (ants and various species of bees and wasps), but their differing evolutionary origins result in major differences in life cycle. In the eusocial Hymenoptera, the workers are exclusively female, males (drones) are haploid and develop from unfertilized eggs, while females (both workers and the queen) are diploid and develop from fertilized eggs. In contrast, worker termites, which constitute the majority in a colony, are diploid individuals of both sexes and develop from fertilized eggs. Depending on species, male and female workers may have different roles in a termite colony.

The life cycle of a termite begins with an egg but is different from that of a bee or ant in that it goes through a developmental process called incomplete metamorphosis, with egg, nymph and adult stages. Nymphs resemble small adults, and go through a series of moults as they grow. In some species, eggs go through four moulting stages and nymphs go through three. Nymphs first moult into workers, and then some workers go through further moulting and become soldiers or alates; workers become alates only by moulting into alate nymphs.

The development of nymphs into adults can take months; the time period depends on food availability, temperature, and the general population of the colony. Since nymphs are unable to feed themselves, workers must feed them, but workers also take part in the social life of the colony and have certain other tasks to accomplish such as foraging, building or maintaining the nest or tending to the queen. Pheromones regulate the caste system in termite colonies, preventing all but a very few of the termites from becoming fertile queens.