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The reproductive caste of a mature colony includes a fertile female and male, known as the queen and king.61 The queen of this colony is responsible for egg production for the colony. Unlike in ants, the king mates with her for life.62 In certain species, the abdomen of the queen swells up dramatically to increase fecundity, a characteristic known as physogastrism.61 Depending on the species, the queen begins producing reproductive winged alates at a certain period of year, and huge swarms emerge from the colony when nuptial flight begins.
A young termite nymph. Nymphs first moult into employees, but others may farther moult to become soldiers alates.
Termites are often compared with all the social Hymenoptera (ants and various species of bees and wasps), but their differing evolutionary origins result in significant differences in life cycle. In the eusocial Hymenoptera, the employees are exclusively female. Males (drones) are haploid and develop from unfertilised eggs, while females (both workers and the queen) are diploid and develop from fertilised eggs.
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Depending on species, both male and female employees may have different roles in a termite colony.63.
The entire 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 phases.64 Nymphs resemble small adults, and go through a series of moults as they develop.
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 thembut employees also take part in the social life of their colony and have certain other activities to achieve such as foraging, building or maintaining the nest or tending to the queen.5367 Pheromones govern the caste system in termite colonies, preventing all but a very few of those termites from becoming fertile queens.68.
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Queens of the eusocial termite Reticulitermes speratus are effective at a long lifespan without sacrificing fecundity. These long-lived queens have a significantly lower level of oxidative damage, including oxidative DNA damage, than workers, soldiers and nymphs.69 The decreased degrees of damage seem to be due to increased catalase, an enzyme that protects against oxidative stress.69.
Termite alates only depart the colony when a nuptial flight takes place. Alate men and females pair up together and then land in search of a suitable spot for a colony.70 A termite king and queen do not mate until they find such a spot. When they perform , they excavate a chamber big enough for both, close up the entrance and move to partner.70 After mating, the pair never go outside and spend the rest of their lives in the nest.
For instance, alates in certain species emerge during the day in anchor summer while others emerge during the winter.71 The nuptial flight may also begin at dusk, when the alates swarm around regions with plenty of lights. The time when nuptial flight begins depends on the environmental conditions, the time of day, humidity, wind speed and precipitation.71 The number of termites in a colony also varies, with the larger species typically having 1001,000 individuals.
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The queen only lays 1020 eggs in the very early phases of the colony, but places as many as 1,000 a day when the colony is a few years old.53 At maturity, a main queen has a great capability to lay eggs. In certain species, the adult queen includes a greatly distended abdomen and may create 40,000 eggs a day.72 Both mature ovaries may possess some 2,000 ovarioles each.73 The abdomen increases the queen's body length to a number of times greater than before mating and reduces her ability to maneuver freely; attendant workers offer assistance. .
The king grows only slightly larger after initial mating and continues to mate with the queen for life (a termite queen can survive between 30 to 50 years); this is quite different from ant colonies, in which a queen mates once with the man (s) and stores the gametes for life, as the male ants die soon after mating.6267 If a queen is absent, a termite king produces pheromones which encourage the development of replacement termite queens.74 As the queen and king are monogamous, sperm competition does not happen.75.
Termites going through incomplete metamorphosis on the path to becoming alates form a subcaste in certain species of termite, functioning as potential supplementary reproductives. These supplementary reproductives only mature into primary reproductives upon the passing of a king or queen, or when the primary reproductives are separated from the colony.6676 Supplementaries have the capacity to replace a dead principal reproductive, and there can also be more than a single supplementary within a colony.53 Some queens have the capacity to change from sexual reproduction to asexual reproduction.