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Friday, March 2, 2012


ANAI-ANAI or Termites belong to the Isoptera insect order. I remember during my young age like to see the long que of termites moving from their colony. As I know the Isoptera refers to the adult primary reproductives which possess two pairs of equal length wings. The body of a termite is rather simple indicating that termites diverged very early in insect evolution from a generalized insect ancestor with gradual metamorphosis. Although simple in morphology, termites are advanced in social behaviour. Recent tabulations indicate that there are some 2,800 validly named termite species in 285 genera in the world. In Malaysia we can found termites in the wild jungle, farms, housing area and other location. Tonight I would like to share information about termite based on my readings from few sources and my own experiences.
The existence of termite in our surrounding always threats us. The vast majority of termite species occur in the tropics due to its suitability of weather condition all year round. As I remember termites are like ants, wasps and bees in which termites are social insects with a huge colony in their establishment. They exhibit brood care within their social community or colony. A colony is really just a very large family of insects. Within this family there is overlap of parent and offspring generations. Some of the offspring diverge from the normal course of development to become various castes. Unlike most insects which have only one linear developmental pathway, termites have branching developmental pathways. The life cycle of termite begins with EGG, NYMPH, ARMY, WORKERS, FLYING TERMITE and ADULT (Diagram next).

The Family of Termites are said to live in colonies but this is misleading. A colony is really just a very large family of insects. One of the most profound and defining attributes of the termite family is that it is built on monogamy. Termites are faithful. They are probably the most monogamous group of animals on the earth. The evolutionary outcome of this commitment to monogamy is a large and integrated family. As far as biologists know, termite colonies are the most sophisticated families ever to evolve in the universe. Human families are not as nearly advanced. Humans, in contrast to termites, have the most advanced, non-family based type of social system known in the universe. Termite colonies consist of 3 basic castes : workers, soldiers and reproductivesEggs hatch into tiny immatures called larvae which are incapable of feeding. Larvae are genetically capable of developing into any castes. Time of year and diet determine the developmental pathway of any given termite. 

Workers comprise the bulk of the population. In lower termites there are false pseudergates which retain the potential to become alates. Workers feed all the nymphs, soldiers and reproductives. They also dig tunnels, locate food and water, and build and repair nests. In some species, that includes mushroom gardening. Soldiers develop from nymphs, pseudergates and workers. The metamorphosis take place through moulting process. The transition stage is called a presoldier. With their specialized mouthparts, they provide colony defense against numerous predators such as ants and centipedes.
Reproductives develop either from alates or neotenics. Alates are winged termites and were produced at a particular season. The alates develop wings and compound eyes and will fly out. After flying out, the alates will break off their wings and will be known as dealates. Dealate form a tandem courtship pairs, and after a brief courtship starts a family. The pair is now the queen and king of the new colony. Primary reproductive females, or queens, vary in size depending on the species. Usually they are 10 cm in length and produce thousands of eggs a day. She is relatively immobile and is dependent on the workers. She is licked and fed by the workers. She is also attended by her relatively small mate, the king. There is usually just 1 pair of king and queen in a colony but some species have a low incidence of colonies with multiple reproductives.
The Life Cycle of termites may differ from Subterranean termites are ground-inhabiting, social insects that live in colonies compare with the tropical termites. A colony of subterranean termites may be up to 18-20 feet below the soil surface to protect it from extreme weather conditions. The tropical may inhibit above the ground and in the roof-top of our housing wood structure. Many case reported about the damage of roofing system in Malaysia due to the attack of termites. The owner has to inspect the existence of termites frequently and control measures are very important. Normally the mature termite colony has three castes: reproductive (king and queen), soldiers, and workers. For the new colonies are formed when winged males and females (alates) from a parent colony emerge in flight or swarm. Alates are also known as swarmers. Both male and female swarmers fly from the colony and travel varying distances. Only a small percentage of swarmers survive to develop colonies – the majorities fall prey to birds, toads, insects and many die from dehydration or injury. A pair that survives immediately makes a very small nest under the ground before mating. They dig soil near wood, enter the chamber and seal the opening. Initially, the new queen termite lays only a few eggs. The fertilized female usually deposits 6 to 20 eggs during the first six months following the swarming flight and she may lay more than 60,000 eggs in her lifetime. The male (king), remains with the female because periodic mating is required for continued egg development. The royal queen is known to survive up to 25 years!

Termites’ Behaviour for the the queen may live up to 25 years and lay more than 60,000 eggs in her lifetime. The eggs are yellowish white and hatch after an incubation of 50 to 60 days. Eggs are not deposited continuously; in fact, only a few hundred are deposited during the first year. In subsequent years, the young queen grows larger and lays more eggs. Larvae hatch from the eggs within several weeks and are cared for by the new king and queen. The colony stabilizes when the queen reaches maximum egg production. If the queen dies, secondary reproductives take over the queen’s duties. Workers normally after they undergo the larva stage, the full-grown workers are soft-bodied, wingless, blind and creamy white. They are about 1/8 inch long and have no wings. They perform all the labour in the colony such as obtaining food, feeding other caste members, nursing for the larvae, excavating wood, and constructing tunnels. Workers mature within a year and live from three to five years. People always wonder how these little soft bodies creature can destroy our property and how they digest those hard cellulose things. Although worker termites are soft-bodied insects, their hard, saw-toothed jaws work like shears and are able to bite off extremely small fragments of wood, a piece at a time. Termites often infest buildings and damage lumber, wood panels, flooring, sheetrock, wallpaper, plastics, paper products and fabric made of plant fibres. Subterranean termites cannot digest cellulose directly. They depend on protozoa living in the termite hind gut to break down the cellulose to simple acetic acid, which termites can digest. Worker termites and older nymphs consume wood and share their nourishment with the developing young, other workers, soldiers and reproductives.
Soldiers  also synonym with their name, their task is just to defend the colony from their enemies such as ants, rare roaches and other animals. In most species, the soldiers are equipped with hard and large mandibles. Some species have latex liquid which they will spray when under attack. They depend on the workers to feed and groom them. In some species, the ratio of soldier and worker is 2:8. Then the Alates Or Swarmers or in  Malay community call them ‘kelkatu’ are related to night swarming stage during hot followed by rainy days. Normally, they actively fly out after rainy days. Why at that time? Most probably because at that time the wind condition is quite stagnant and the temperature is cozy. They are attracted to light and at that point of time they will found their mates. Only at the alate stage do termites have eyes. Once they have found their mates, they will drop their wings and find suitable a place to start their colony. This is the beginning of a new termite colony. They will mate and the female will start laying eggs. The female will eventually become the queen and the male will become the king. The queen will still find the food for the first hatch of their nymphs.
Termites feed on dead plant cell, wood, leaf litter, roots, dead herbs and grasses, dung and humus. Chemically, their food can be characterized as lignocellulosic matter, which is the most abundant organic material in the biosphere. Termites are able to digest cellulose, and some species can also digest lignin, with the assistance of symbiotic intestinal protozoa and bacteria. Many termites also have symbiotic relations with nitrogen-fixing bacteria. In converting lignocellulosic biomass to insect biomass, termite production supports a large proportion of tropical vertebrate biodiversity, including many species of amphibians, reptiles, birds and ground foraging insectivorous mammals.

Termites are important in agriculture sector as a pests and also as a beneficial insects. The good site of termite is their ability to fasten the decomposition of woods and vegetation and as a returns the humus and organic matter released even in a small amount. Anyhow termites more like pests in agriculture especially on parrenial crop such as rubber tree, oil palm, fruit trees and timber tree. The unwanted termite existence in the are are sort of assurance in our asset. I hope this article and the information able to provide extra knowledge for you all !

M Anem
Jalan Istana, Air Keroh,
Melaka , Malaysia.
(9 Rabiul akhir 1433H)    

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