How Does the Life Cycle of Termites Work?

Most people will stop frozen when they see a termite. It doesn’t matter that humans tower over these pesky little bugs. What scares people is what a termite represents.

Termites are not known to be harmful to humans in the conventional ways that other critters are. They don’t often bite, even when handled and if they do, their bite is not generally harmful to humans. Even so, the impact that a termites nest or colony can have on families and their homes can be just as devastating.

And although most colonies are made up of termites that will only live to be one to two years old, their accumulated impact can last for decades. The potential for cosmetic damage to a home can itself be a burden, but the fact that the visible damage alone can be a sign of a much larger problem is even more distressing.

For more information about the behavior of termites, check out Terminix’s article on termite behavioural characteristics.

A rock suffering from a termite infestation.

It is important to know the signs of warnings of how a termites nest can appear in your home, but it is also important to see how an infestation begins. Let’s look at how the life cycle of termites proceeds, and what effects their propagation can have long-term on a home.

It Begins With the Termite Queen
Let’s not forget that though the life cycle of your average termite is one to two years, the termite queen herself can live for decades if conditions are optimal. Queen termites are recognizable due to their large size in comparison to the other caste termites. In fact, they can be as large as four inches.

Though their sole purpose is to generate eggs, they also have the ability to elicit a pheromone that can either inhibit or facilitate the reproduction rate in the colony. However once set in motion, colonies can become quite large quite fast, as the baby termites a queen produces can populate a colony that can eventually total in the millions.

The Birth Of A Termite Colony


Colonies begin when the winged variety of termites mate. Once they have mated, the pair shed their wings, and ascend to the throne as king and queen of their respective colonies. Once fertilized, the queen is quick to get to work when producing her termite eggs, as studies show that termites queens can produce an egg every three seconds, and as many as 30,000 in a single day.

Once produced, these termite eggs will gestate for about a month before becoming termite babies. How quickly they gestate can also depend on the climate in which they are produced—colder climates tend to cause gestation to last longer than normal. The termite queen and king’s only purpose is to produce termite eggs, so once they completed this task, their job is done.

Termite eggs look surprisingly like rice.

From Egg to Larvae


Once termite eggs have hatched, baby termites begin a process of moulting which begins at the larvae stage. At this stage, they are also known as nymphs and are a pale white colour. This maturing process consists of them first shedding the initial thin and interior exoskeleton, while growing the harder exterior that will take them into a size three times larger than birth, and eventually adulthood. Once fully grown, these larvae will have become a member of one of the three castes in the termite kingdom.

The Three Caste System


Like the caste system that is practised in some human societies like India, each of these three roles that baby termites will grow into will have essential functions for the success of the colony at large, and the termite queen in particular.

• Alates/ Reproductive Class- These are heirs to the future colonies, as once they reach maturity, they will leave the colony from which they were born to begin a new colony as the new king and termites queen. Different from the other adult termites due to their wings, this class of termite measures about ½ to ¼ of an inch.

Once grown, alates form into groups to participate in “swarms” a process in which alates pair off and procreate and begin the cycle of colony building anew. Witnessing a swarm of alates in a home can alarming on its own, but it is particularly so due to the fact that alate production slows when a colony is still in its infancy.

So, if a homeowner witnesses a swarm of alate termites somewhere in their house, they can safely assume that a large and healthy colony is nearby.

• Worker Class- This class serves as a jack-of-all-trades for the colony. Depending on their size and age, these termites complete various different tasks for the colony. For example, they are the tunnel builders and food foragers, which makes them the most likely of their brethren to be discovered in infected wood. In addition, they are often tasked with feeding the newly hatched larvae and defending the termite queen from intruders in the absence of the following third class of termite.

Termites at work in food.



• Soldier Class- Being the larger than its’ fellow caste members—their bodies usually include large heads and mandibles— the soldier termite’s main objective is to protect the queen and colony from predators (which are most often, ants.) Though they often make up an exceptionally small portion of the colony’s population (about 2-3% total), they often are responsible for leadership in the colony as it grows. And though they may not be the culprits specifically when it comes to property damage, they are the protectors of the worker termites that do.

These three castes of termites serve their purposes to aid the queen and colony as it continues to grow. These colonies often come to include secondary and tertiary reproductive termites who will assist the main king and queen termites and in some cases assume their duties in the event of the queen’s death. This impeccable cycle allows colonies to continue to thrive even when a long-serving queen dies, as a fertilized alates are nearby and ready to assume their position as queen.

Stopping the Cycle
For homeowners who are wary of a potential termite infestation, it is helpful to be familiar with how these termite colonies operate in their regimented cycles, as detecting early signs—flying termites, or discarded alate wings— can be crucial to making sure an infestation does not grow to its full potential. Once a homeowner notices the presence of baby termites or termite eggs, they may be in the midst of a tremendously inconvenient and costly termite issue.

Even though the life cycle of termites is definitely interesting and resourceful, the fact remains that they are a threat to your home, and must hence be eradicated.

If you’re interested or want to know more about eradicating termites in your home, pestHow has an article on termite eradication.

Termites must be cleaned up as soon as possible, preferably by a professional.

If you discover a termite’s nest around or in your home, it is crucially important to take the steps to contact a professional to determine the severity of the infection and treat it appropriately.

Need termite removal services that are reliable, safe and effective?

We here at Zenith Lab are termite pest control specialists in Singapore and use the latest technology to remove your termite infestation in a manner that is safe for the elderly, kids and pets. Contact us today for a quote!

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