Termites are an important group of insects, which includes only two other small families, the web-spinners and the booklice.
TERMITES—These insects have survived from pre-historic days, and have a primitive structure. As white ants, they are known to everybody, and because they live in communities, they are confused with true ants.
They are one of the most serious timber pests, because they feed in drying wood, and are very destructive in building timber. A termite ‘s nest is called a termitary The Centre of the nest is composed of chewed wood passed through the bodies of the termites. Over this is built an earthen wall inches thick, every grain of which has been carried up and cemented together by the workers.
The amount of energy put into this work can be estimated from the fact that we have nests in Australia ranging from 5 to 20 feet in height. The foundation of the termitaries is always a log or stump, started by a small colony of termites. As the numbers of workers and soldiers increase, the whole stump is chewed up. A finished nest consists of a network of irregular galleries and flattened chambers. The Queen Termite’s cell is like an inverted saucer of solid material; within this the queen lives and dies. Small passages lead from this chamber, through which the workers travel when carrying the eggs to the nursery, The nursery, above the
Queen’s cell, consists of a crumpled mass, as big as one’s head, of woody material likened to folds of crisp brown blotting paper.
The base of the nest is below ground level; and underground galleries lead away from it into the forest.
The inhabitants of the nest have special duties to perform. The blind, wingless workers with soft bodies, hard heads, and strong biting jaws, predominate. They they are the builders of the nest; take care of the Queen, the eggs , and the larvae; and in the early summer they cut the holes through the earthen wall, through which the winged termites leave the nest. The blind and wingless soldiers, with defensive scissor-like jaws, or with a snout, protect the nest ; they are not so numerous. When the wall is broken, they stand guard to snap off the head of any intruding black ant while the workers repair the damage. The Queen, once a winged termite, has cast her wings, and lays the thousands of eggs for the whole nest. The eggs are hatched in the nursery. The tiny white microscopic larvae are fed and tended by the workers until they are strong enough to wander through the nest. In the early summer, the perfect male and female termites have developed wings, and are ready to fly into the outside world. It is an exciting day when the soldiers withdraw from the holes cut through the wall by the workers. A continuous stream of winged termites fly out and up into the air, and make for the light when darkness falls. Ninety per cent. of them are eaten by birds and hungry insects. A few lucky couples creep into cracks and cavities, east off their wings, and start new colonies.
The Milk Termite is the common mound-building termite on the east coast of Australia. It is the one species that gets into the timber of buildings and does such great damage. The nest varies from four to five feet in height, broadest at the base and round at the summit. The winged termites are black, under 1 inch long. The worker is white; the head, round, yellowish ; the jaws stout, black, toothed; the antennae beadlike ; the thorax narrow; the body oval, broad; three pairs of legs. The soldier termite is white, with a yellow pear-shaped head; it has two slender curved black jaws, and bead-like antennae. Besides these, there is a circular opening in the front of the head, from which the soldier can discharge a sticky silky fluid on an enemy if it cans not reach to snap off its head with its jaws. The Awl-headed Termites make rounded nests on the tops of stumps, or nest on the stems of trees.
These are made of chewed wood, but no clay. The winged termites are black; the workers are a reddish brown, small, rather hairy, and have smooth, shiny heads. The awl-headed soldiers have no scissor-like jaws, but they discharge a drop of honey-coloured fluid from a little hole in the centre of the snout to protect the inmates of the nest.
Order: ISOPTERA (isos, equal; pteron, a wing).
Milk Termite.—Coptotermes lacteuse
Common Awl-headed Termite.—Eutermes fumitgatus.