Managing Their Dead:
Termite colonies have undertaker workers to manage and dispose of dead colony members. This task is very important for overall colony health as well as nutrient recycling.
What did we learn from this study?
If the termite was “freshly” dead
Dead, fresh worker termites were collected from the test area, brought back to the colony and cannibalized
Freshly dead soldiers were also collected and cannibalized
Why do termites cannibalize workers and soldiers?
Worker termites that had been dead for more than 64 hours
When the worker was found it was buried on site (where the body was found)
Solider termites were “walled off” AND buried
Probably to separate decomposed bodies from the colony and/or prevent further disease transmission
Fig. 3. Behavioral responses to corpses with 64 h postmortem time from different castes. (A) Schematic drawings depict three different undertaking behaviors when termites encounter corpses from different castes. Drawings from top to bottom represent burial, wall-off, and move, then burial, respectively. (B) Behavioral responses to corpses from each caste. Stacked bars indicate the percentages of behavioral responses depicted in A.
Why Should a PMP care about undertaking Termites?
The king & queen pair up, shed their wings, and create a nest chamber for their first batch of 6-12 eggs. The queen will care for this first batch until they can take over as workers to tend to colony care needs.
New Colony Formation:
We often believe swarming is the only way termites create new colonies. Are there other ways termites can create “new” separate colonies? New colony formation can also occur if a portion of the termites in a colony is separated from the rest of the colony, resulting in the formation of sub-colonies. This is termed as colony “splitting” or “budding”. What types of events can lead to this behavior? Colony Founding, and how does this information help a PMP? Understanding how colonies are founded and created can help us understand colony elimination if there are several colonies on a property.
Development of termites:
All larvae hatch from eggs. Each individual larva has the potential to develop into any caste. Each individual larva has the potential to be either fertile or non-fertile.
Termites and Division of Labor:
Termites are Eusocial and have a caste system. Castes have specialized morphologies, based on their specialized tasks. Diverse, sometimes very large nests. Castes are generally divided into 2 types of termites.
The fertile termites include:
The non-fertile termites include:
How is caste determined?
Classically, assuming that all egg contains the similar or identical genetic information, caste developmental fates are determined depending on various environmental factors experienced during postembryonic development, as well as sex and egg factors.
Termites as a Superorganism:
How does this help a PMP? By understanding basic biology and how termites behave we better understand how to manage them… know they enemy!
How much wood CAN a termite eat?
The average subterranean termite consumes 0.004 to 0.196 mg of food per day. Averages 0.08 mg per termite per day. Native subterranean termite colonies have an average of 200,000 workers. Formosan subterranean termites colonies an have an average of 500,000 workers. If we assume all species are approximately equal in the amount of wood EACH TERMITE can consume:
The average native subterranean termite colony could eat
The average Formosan termite colony will be about twice these estimates.
So how much wood is that?
The average 2” X 4” X 10’ weighs approx. (a piece of lumber)
So, if a termite colony eats NO OTHER FOOD sources. An average native subterranean termite could consume a 2 X 4 X10 in one year, and a Formosan colony could do it in half that time.
With a fungus…?
Termites and fungus share a long history
Both of these organisms share similar habitats and are critical for the decomposition of wood. Association between these organisms brought some interesting evolutionary consequences. For example, some fungi species form fungal masses that mimic termite eggs which act opportunistically to access & steal termite colony resources.
A fungus forms “termite balls” that can be harbored in termite nests
These termite balls are held in the egg chambers…
Fungus “termite balls”:
The enzymes produced by the fungal balls are also found in salivary secretions of termites.
The overlap of these organisms in the decomposer group AND sharing similar chemicals to break down cellulose led to the origin of termite egg mimicry.
Beneficial Role of Termites:
How does this information help a PMP? Termites are complex creatures with complex relationships. Understanding basic biology and not so basic behavior will make you better as a PMP.
FACT #1– "Managing Corpses From Different Castes in the Eastern Subterranean Termite”
Multi-discipline and university study Jizhe Shi, chi Zhang, Sirui Huang, Austin Merchant, Qian Sun, Chuan Zhou, Kenneth F. Haynes, and Xuguo Zhou University of Kentucky, Louisiana State University, Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences
Ann Entomol Soc Am, Volume 114, Issue 5, September 2021, Pages 662–671, https://doi.org/10.1093/aesa/saaa060FACT #3–Social interactions affecting caste development through physiological actions in termites Dai Watanabe, Hioki Gotoh, Toru Miura, Kiyoto Maekawa Front Physiol. 2014; 5: 127.
FACT #4–Based on 1998 NPCA report authored by Dr. Barbara Thorne, "Biology of Subterranean Termites of the Genus Reticulitermes,"
FACT #5– https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2008.11.030
Cuckoo Fungus Mimics Termite Eggs by Producing the Cellulose-Digesting Enzyme B-Glucosidase
Kenji Matsuura, Toshihisa Yashiro, Ken Shimizu, Shingo Tatsumi, Takashi Tamura
Curr. Biol. 19 (2009), 30-36
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