In a termite colony, the queen is responsible for laying eggs to sustain the colony’s growth and survival.
What Do Subterranean Termite Queens and Reproductives Look Like?
Picture of Queen Termite in Colony
A subterranean termite queen can vary in color from pale yellow-brown to black. Secondary reproductives in subterranean species are typically white or very light in color – the same color as worker termites for that species.
Role of the Queen
The role of the queen in a termite colony varies and changes over time. After pairing with a male, she begins her job as “founder” to get the colony started. She has to locate a suitable nest site, help excavate it, and then start producing eggs that will become workers.
The queen and king are groomed and fed by workers, which enter the royal cell through small openings in its hard protective wall. Queens lay eggs at a steady rate every day. Workers move the eggs to incubation chambers.
Egg production is slow at first, but increases year by year; the queen maintains peak egg performance for seven to 10 years. Once the secondary queens – which are produced within the colony – begin egg-laying, colony size (number of workers) increases rapidly.
The number of eggs produced by the queen varies depending on the species and the age of the queen. In tropical regions, egg production is continuous throughout the year, although there are seasonal fluctuations. In more temperate regions, termite egg production is often suspended during the cooler months.
After hatching, young immatures are taken to nursery chambers where they are fed and groomed by workers. They are moved to other chambers in the nest until their final molt into workers or soldiers.
A colony of about 1,000 workers at two years can multiply into 300,000 workers in five more years. Secondary queens are usually located in satellite nests away from, but connected to the main nest, so colonies can grow in size and number of individuals.
The queen, king and alates (termite swarmers) are considered the primary reproductives in a colony. In some cases, secondary or tertiary reproductives also can produce offspring. These secondary or tertiary reproductives do not have wings, although they may have wing buds.
When weather conditions are optimal, the queen produces alates, which will leave the nest to form new colonies.
When male and female winged termites mate to form a new colony, they first locate a suitable nest and hollow it out. Then, the queen begins laying eggs and cares for the first eggs. Once the queen lays enough eggs to establish a worker caste, the workers will begin caring for the eggs and expanding the size of the nest.
Secondary and Tertiary Reproductives
The queen is able to control the colony’s size and prevent the formation of secondary and tertiary reproductives through the production of a pheromone. Once the colony reaches a certain size, she may permit the development of secondary and tertiary reproductives. These reproductives create satellite nests near the colony and begin laying eggs. Once these satellite nests are established, the colony will begin to grow at an exponential rate.
The original queen in the colony is capable of chemically blocking development of the reproductive potential of all members of the colony. The king and/or queen produce a pheromone that circulates through the colony and inhibits the formation of other (secondary) reproductives.
The inhibitory pheromone produced by the queen prevents development of female secondary reproductives. This substance is circulated through the colony by immature stages that routinely consume the feces of nestmates.
When the queen dies, production of the blocking pheromone stops, and secondary reproductives may be produced.
In the Reticulitermes species, the queen and king may be replaced by numerous secondary reproductives, and the colony may become very large with the added productivity of many queens.
Queen Termite Lifespan
A queen termite has a long lifespan and is typically the oldest termite in the colony. Termite queens can live 25 to 50 years, with peak egg production for up to 10 years. When the queen dies and the pheromone she uses to block reproductives’ development is no longer produced, a new queen will develop in the colony.
Queen Termite Size
A queen termite is usually slightly larger in size than a worker termite of the same species.
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