There are thousands of termite species worldwide, and at least 50 species thrive in the United States. Several subterranean, drywood and dampwood termites invade homes from the mountains to the desert to the coast, causing millions of dollars in damage each year. The most common termite species in Southern California include Western subterranean termites, Western drywood termites, and Pacific dampwood termites.
Regardless of the termite species, the termite life cycle is similar and consists of workers, soldiers, and reproductives. After the queen lays an egg, it goes through a series of termite stages until it assumes its role in one of three castes in the colony.
Workers build tunnels, maintain the nest, and forage to feed the colony. They also are responsible for grooming other members of the colony and caring for termite hatchlings.
Soldiers protect the colony from invaders like ants and other insects with their powerful jaws and or by discharging a sticky solution from an orifice in their heads. Soldier termites can also warn the rest of the colony of danger by banging their heads to create vibrations.
Reproductives are responsible for populating the colony and establishing new termite colonies.
This caste includes the king and queen and swarmers who venture out of the nest.
From egg to nymph to maturity, the termite stages are a wonder of nature that we don’t yet fully understand. All nymphs in the termite life cycle are identical when they hatch, but they can go on to take on a range of roles in the colony. Each colony practices a form of natural regulation that ensures there is one pair of reproductives and a specific ratio of workers, soldiers, and nymphs.
The number of individuals in each caste in a colony is closely monitored. Typically there are one pair of reproductives and a set ratio of soldiers, workers, and nymphs. If the ratio of soldiers falls below a certain level, for example, a specific number of nymphs develop into soldiers to put things in balance. Unfortunately for some colony members, termites will also cannibalize members of a caste if their prescribed ratio increases.
Now let’s take a look at how termite eggs evolve into mature adults with a breakdown of the termite life cycle and what each of the termite stages looks like.
The termite life cycle can take up to a year for termites to grow from eggs into fully-functioning adults. Depending on what role they inevitably play in the colony, the termite lifespan could be very short or decades-long. Those lucky enough to become a king or queen can expect a long and happy life, while most swarming reproductives die after they take flight to establish a new colony. No matter where they end up, each colony member goes through the same termite life stages.
A termite queen can lay thousands of eggs every day, and the eggs typically take about a month to incubate before they hatch into larvae. Termite eggs are tiny, oval-shaped, and have a white or pale brown color.
Termites emerge from eggs as tiny larvae with soft shells and are cared for by worker termites until they grow into nymphs. Sometimes referred to as baby termites, the larvae resemble worker termites but are smaller. At this stage, nymphs are identical until they begin molting.
Nymphs go through several molts before they mature into one of the three castes in the colony. The molting stages, and which role the nymphs will assume, are controlled by chemical signals from pheromones emitted by the king or queen.
After the final molting stage, nymphs become adults and begin their new life as a member of the colony. Most of the termites will be workers and the others will go on to be soldiers or reproductives.
Once a termite matures and assumes its primary role in the colony, it can still transform into a member of another caste when necessary. Soldiers are inter-castes, meaning they can turn into workers or reproductives to help sustain the colony’s balance.
How Long Do Termites Live?
Two of the questions we hear most often are “How long do termites live?” and “Do termites die in winter?” The answer to the first question is anywhere from a couple of years to several decades. The answer to the second question is usually no—especially not in Southern California! Termites are incredibly resilient and adaptive and can burrow deeper into the soil or take other steps to survive all but the harshest winters.
Some African termite queens can live for 60 years and Eastern subterranean termite queens can live up to 30 years. The good news for Southern Californians is that the average termite queens of our local species probably live for an average of about 15 years. That’s 15 years laying thousands of eggs each day!
So a better question to ask may be, “How long do termites do damage?” The answer can be years to decades, and since new colonies spring up during the swarming season, your home could be subjected to an endless cycle of termite damage.
For proven termite control services in Los Angeles, Orange, and San Diego counties and across Southern California, you can count on Hi-Tech Termite Control. Give us a call for your free termite inspection or contact us online to protect your home against termite damage.