Termite Appearance and Morphology

Termite Appearance and Morphology

Knowing termite appearance and morphology is essential in identification of these pests and eventual eradication of the colony. Most people think of termites as little white ants, but termite appearance and morphology is so much more than thinking they are little white ants. In fact, the common termite only superficially resembles an ant. The reason people think of the termite as white ants is because of their similar size and social habits.

Like ants, termites live in colonies with very specific structure. Each termite has a specific job to do in order to make the colony work. Worker termites bring food back to the mound that is home to colony and they do the most damage to structures and crops. Soldier termites defend the colony from predators. They have very strong mandibles and can cause damage to anyone trying to destroy the colony. Reproductive termites are winged and lay eggs so that the colony is always growing. The king and queen “rule” the colony and are responsible for making sure that the colony continues and that all members are doing their jobs.

As far as termite appearance and morphology is concerned, the termite is softer, whiter, shorter-legged, fatter and generally much slower moving. In all actuality, they are not even closely related to ants. Ants, along with bees and wasps, belong to the Order Hymenoptera. Termites are much closer to cockroaches and mantids, and all three are sometimes clumped into a super order called Dictyoptera. Some scientists have concluded that termites should be classified as a family Termitidae within the cockroaches’ order Blattodea.

Termites have biting mouthparts, and their soft bodies are small, rarely over one centimeter in length. Typically, they will occupy dark nests and tunnels only venturing out when the winged alates emerge to leave the parent colony, when constructing shelter or when harvesting their food.

The bodies of flying termites are darker while the termites that remain in the nest or mound are generally white in color with only their heads having color. The wings of termites are long and slender in pairs that are similarly sized and shaped. The name of the Order they belong to is derived from their having equal wings. Isopteron (iso=equal, pteron=wing). The wings are quickly shed after a flight with a simple body flick when the swarming termites find a new nest site, pair up, and dig in. The remnant of a termite wing is a distinct triangle, but they are small, so don’t try looking for one too hard!

Knowing about termite appearance and morphology can help you identify termites around structures and in crops. Once you are able to determine you have a termite problem, you can take steps to eradicate them before they cause too much damage.