Other Common Names
(though they are unrelated to ants)
Synonyms and other taxonomic changes
used to be treated as a separate order Isoptera
Explanation of Names
from New Latin termes
), from Classical Latin tarmes
'a wood-worm', prob. derived from terere
44 spp. in 18 genera of 4 families in our area(2)
, ~2,900 spp. in almost 300 genera of 9 families worldwide(3)
Families of our fauna:
Kalotermitidae (Drywood Termites)
-- large termites that remain concealed within dry wood
Rhinotermitidae (Subterranean Termites)
-- the most commonly encountered
Termitidae (Higher Termites)
--the most speciose family, less frequently encountered in NA
Termopsidae (Rottenwood Termites)
--3 spp. in a single genus in our area
worldwide, except cold climates; maximum diversity is equatorial (half of that diversity falls between 18°N and 30°S)(4)
Live in colonies, although the size of the colonies can range from very small (within a single twig) to very large (city blocks).
Kalotermitidae leave very little evidence of their existence inside wood. Infestations in homes are typically identified by the repeated accumulation of dry powder (frass) on surfaces under their cryptic tunnel openings.
Rhinotermitidae include species that are the most destructive to wooden structures, although most species in this family will not consume the dry, preserved wood used in construction. They generally nest in the soil and construct tubes of dirt and frass to travel from the nest to wood sources. The tubes protect them from drying out and from predators, and can run along surfaces in any direction, or even straight through the air.
Termitidae are less often seen near human habitation; their diversity increases towards warmer regions. They are responsible for the amazing termite mounds and other structures seen in other parts of the world. Many species cover their food with frass to protect themselves while they consume the matieral.
Termopsidae are behaviorally primitive, with most species unable to live outside the wood in which the colony was started. They colonize wood on advanced stages of decay and tend to be very moist.
Dead plant material, in our area mostly wood. Symbiotic bacteria and/or protozoans assist in digesting the cellulose.
All the termites are eusocial
. Unlike other eusocial groups (e.g. ants
) termites do not have haplodiploid
genetics, and both males and females maintain the colony. In addition to the primary reproductive castes
(Kings and Queens), and sterile Worker caste, many species also produce a Soldier Caste. Soldiers are not merely larger workers, as is seen in the ants. Their head capsules are uniquely designed for defending the colonies, with various species having different designs, depending on the greatest threats for that species. Most Soldiers cannot feed themselves, and instead rely on Workers to feed and groom them. Soldiers can be recognized by their darker head capsules, and their tendency to be near areas of disturbance.