Subterranean Termite Reproduction

How Do Subterranean Termites Reproduce?

The information presented may vary based upon the species of termite and the environmental conditions associated with the termite’s habitat. Subterranean termites have three primary groups or castes – workers, soldiers and the reproductives (king, queen, primary alates (swarmers), alate nymphs, and supplementary reproductives).

New colonies are started by the winged alates, also known as swarmers. When the weather and other conditions are right, swarms of winged alates fly out of a specially formed part of the colony known as the swarming castle and leave the parent colony to fly off and start a new colony.

The most common subterranean found across the U.S. is the eastern subterranean termite whose swarming flights begin in early December and last until the end of May.

Swarming generally occurs on warm, sunny and windless days usually after a rain; however, some subterranean termites swarm at night.

Swarmers do not fly very far from the parent colony as the female swarmers begin to hunt for suitable places to begin a new colony.

While in flight the female and male swarmers pair off and upon finding a suitable place for the new colony, each sheds their two pairs of wings and they begin excavating a chamber in the ground that is close to sources of wood.

Mating

Once the royal chamber is finished, they will close up the entrance into the royal chamber and mate. After mating the queen begins to lay eggs and the wingless king and wingless queen remain in the colony for the rest of their lives.

Kings and queens live the longest of any members of the colony, often surviving for a decade or longer.

The new queen initially lays about a dozen eggs the first few days after mating and will progressively increase egg laying to about 100 eggs per day during the colony’s first year.

Since egg productions increases with time, a mature queen in a mature colony may lay thousands of eggs each day.

So, while the queen start egg laying slowly, she quickly picks up the pace, depending upon the termite species and the environmental conditions.

Until she dies, the queen will lay eggs that molt into workers, soldiers and alates.

In most areas where subterranean termites are found, it takes about 5-10 years for a royal pair to form a colony that produces enough swarmers for a noticeable swarm to occur.

Therefore, if a homeowner finds dead swarmers or their shed wings, likely there is a colony around that has produced enough workers to cause damage to the structure.

Secondary Reproductives

Information about termite reproduction is incomplete without mentioning the importance of secondary reproductives.

Secondary reproductives develop from some of the colony’s alate nymphs whose role is to add to the egg laying capacity within the colony should a queen become unhealthy or die.

Secondary reproductives augment the egg laying function of the queen, or in the case of the queen’s death, secondary reproductives completely take over the role of egg production.

Interestingly, this behavior also comes into play when secondary or satellite colonies are formed. Sometimes members of a parent colony may become isolated from the parent colony as the result of:

  • Flooding or ground excavation, which can split off a group of termites from the parent colony
  • The colony population becoming so large that some of the colony members separate from the parent colony and form a satellite colony in order to expand the colony’s foraging area.
  • A group of termites that locate a place where they congregate and feed, but have enough moisture available so they do not need to live or return to the soil.

In each of these situations, secondary reproductives provide the egg laying role in the satellite colony.