A termite colony is made up of very specific groups of termites that perform specific chores to enable the colony to survive.
Worker termites are exactly what their name indicates: they do the work of the colony. Whether male or female, their role in life is to build and maintain the nest. They forage for food; feed, care for, and groom the other colony members, including the developing larvae, soldiers, and reproducing termites. They build mud tubes (in subterranean species) to connect the underground nest to the above-ground wood, help defend the colony when needed, and cause the extensive damage to homes and buildings in which they live.
Workers are sterile, wingless, and blind. To build and maintain the colony, the worker termites eat the wood – their hardened mouth parts are adapted for this, as well as for chewing up food which they regurgitate to feed the other termite castes.
Because they are needed to keep the colony going, there are always more workers than any other caste. They are white and up to about 3/8 inch in length, thus are sometimes thought to be white ants.
Reproductive Termite Alates
Because neither the workers nor the soldiers can reproduce, there must be another caste that can keep the colony alive and growing. This caste is the “Alates” or reproductive termites. These are the flying termites (sometimes thought to be winged ants) that swarm out of the nest to find a mate and reproduce.
They fly only a very short while, then land and discard their wings. If a male and female have mated, they will then burrow into the ground to begin a new colony.
Sometimes thought to be winged ants, the winged termites can be differentiated from ants primarily by their stout bodies that have no “waist”; the two body parts of ants are distinctly separated.
Alates are brownish to dark black; they are the only termites that have wings.
King and Queen Termites:
Although very few of the Alates survive to mate and form colonies, those that do become the king and queen of the new nest. The queen will begin to lay eggs within days and continue laying eggs.
Initially, the king and queen care for the eggs, but once workers develop, these termites take over the caretaking chores, along with their other responsibilities (see Worker Termites above) … and the cycle begins again.