Explanation of Names
Zootermopsis Emerson 1933
3 spp. total, all in our area(1)(2)
w. NA (Canada to n. Mexico)(4)
generally found in rotting wood, particularly within fallen trees
These termites subsist on rotten wood, digested with the help of symbiotic protozoa and bacteria. They will also eat injured colony members and members of other colonies within the same tree if given the opportunity.
As with other species of termites, Zootermopsis termites have Kings and Queens, referred to as primary reproductives. Most colonies are started by a single queen and king after a mating flight, in which thousands of termites fly at one time. While winged, these are called alates.
The soon-to-be king and queen remove their wings by snapping them off, and then excavate a small chamber under the bark of a dead tree, usually previously entered by beetles.
The first egg that hatches invariably develops into a small soldier. Soldiers defend the colony from invasions from neighboring colonies as well as raids by ants. They can be easily recognized by their darkened heads with long mandibles designed for slashing, and useless for chewing.
Subsequent termites born into the colony will develop into workers.
While some workers become “terminally differentiated” most retain the ability to change their caste as they continue to moult. This is in contrast with most other species of termites. Some of these workers will develop into larger solders, and others will develop wingbuds and ultimately the wings of primary reproductives.
(See two individuals on the bottom)
In addition to kings, queens, soldiers and workers, Zootermopsis termites have two types of “secondary reproductives” These are individuals that terminally differentiate into fertile organisms without fully developing wings and dispersing. Neotenics are reproductive-workers, and typically have a golden color along with alterations in the shape of the abdomen. In those that had wingbuds, these are usually chewed off of the neotenics.
(see individual on top of image above)
Reproductive-soldiers (also known as assassins by a few select people) are most easily identified when wingbuds are present. Other signs are changes in the shape of the mandible and abdomen.
Secondary reproductives are present when primary reproductives have been killed, such as after war with neighboring colonies. As these colonies merge from repeated war, the presence of secondary reproductives can become common in the large merged colonies.
(Note the many golden neotenics in this disturbed colony.)
As the wood in which the colonies are growing is depleted, more of the workers develop into winged reproductives. Dampwood Termite colonies do not move from one tree to another, and the colonies die out once the tree has been fully consumed.