Termites are not ants, but they do resemble them in many ways. In fact, termites are not even distantly related to ants, they are more closely related to cockroaches. But, as I stated, termites share many traits with ants. They live in colonies of many hundreds, thousands and even millions of inhabitants, they have a queen termite, they are controlled by something we humans do not comprehend, but which we call ‘collective intelligence’, they are given this information by pheromones and they procreate by means of eggs. The queen can lay thousands of termite eggs per day and there can be more than one queen per colony.
An adult termite queen is capable of producing thousands of eggs a day. This is accomplished by having an enlarged abdomen. Sometimes the abdomen is a hundred times the size of a typical termite, although the head and the legs remain the same size as before.
This process produces quite a bizarre creature compared to her relatives, although we clearly do not know how they regard her. Being blind and in the gloom of a termite colony they cannot see her anyway. In some species, the queen will grow a new pair of ovaries with each molting of her skin, which will increase her fruitfulness even more.
When a mature queen is at this phase in her life, she cannot move, because when she lies on her stomach her legs do not even touch the ground. If she has to get anywhere for whatever reason, the worker termites will either carry or roll her there. They also take care of to her toiletry needs and feed her.
It can take dozens and dozens of workers to shift the queen when she has become an egg factory. If she is moved by the workers, they are rewarded with a juice that the queen exudes from her behind. It is stimulating enough to revive the workers and encourage them to do the queen’s bidding next time. The queen communicates with her subjects through pheromones.
However we try to humanize this process in order to better understand it, it is virtually impossible to think like a termite or any other insect that uses ‘collective intelligence’. We talk about ‘the queen’, but do termites think of her as ‘the boss’? Do they pity her for not being able to get out? Almost certainly not. She has a duty to do as do the other castes of termites and it is likely that not one caste feels itself to be higher or lower than another.
Calling the different castes of termites queens, kings, soldiers and workers is just a method of explaining things in everyday human terms, but it probably bears little relevance to how termites interact within their own society.
An interesting digression to the subject of termite eggs is the winged termites, also called reproductive or alate termites. They can sit in the wings waiting for the right moment to fly off and establish a new colony or one of them can be ‘brought on’ to replace a queen that has died or been killed.
Owen Jones, the author of this article, writes on lots of subjects, but is at present concerned with how to get rid of termites. If you are interested in this or if you are wondering: What Does A Termite Look Like?. Please go to our web site now for further details.