Subterranean termites are ground-inhabiting, social insects that live in colonies. A colony or nest of subterranean termites may be up to 18-20 feet below the soil surface to protect it from harsh weather conditions. Termites travel through mud tubes to reach food sources above the soil surface.
The mature termite colony has three castes:
- Reproductives (king and queen)
The colony reaches its maximum size in approximately 4 to 5 years and may include 60,000 to 200,000 workers. New colonies are formed when winged males and females from a parent colony emerge in flight or swarm.
The winged reproductives (commonly called swarmers) are dark brown to brownish black and have two pairs of equal size wings that extend well beyond the body.
Swarms are common in spring and fall, especially after a rain. After a flight, the winged males and females return to the ground and shed their wings. The wingless males and females pair up and search for sources of wood and moisture in soil. The royal couple digs a chamber in the soil near wood, enters the chamber and seals the opening. After mating, the queen starts laying eggs. 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.
Full-grown workers are soft-bodied, wingless, blind and creamy white. In early stages, they are fed predigested food by the king and queen. Once workers are able to digest wood, they provide food for the entire colony. The workers perform all the labor in the colony such as obtaining food, feeding other caste members and immatures, excavating wood, and constructing tunnels. Workers mature within a year and live from 3 to 5 years.
Soldiers are creamy white, soft-bodied, wingless and blind. The head of the soldier is enormously elongated, brownish, hard and equipped with two jaws. Soldiers must be fed by workers because they cannot feed themselves. They are less numerous in the colony than workers and their only function is to defend the colony against invaders. Soldiers mature within a year and live up to 5 years.