By Owen Jones

For the scientifically-minded, termites are eusocial animals of the Class Insecta; Subclass Pterygota; Infraclass Neoptera; Superorder Dictyoptera and Order Isoptera. They are not related to ants in any way, although some people refer to them as white ants. Having said, that termites do share certain characteristics with ants: firstly, work is apportioned along lines of gender and secondly, the leader of the nest is the termite queen.

A normal, established nest will contain between several hundred and several million insects of the following kinds: nymphs (semi-mature young), workers, soldiers, and reproductive individuals of both sexes and at least one egg-laying queen.

The reproductive caste, also referred to as the winged or alate caste, are usually the only termites with quite well-developed eyes although in some species there are sporadically soldiers with eyes as well. Termites that are suitable to become alates will undergo an incomplete metamorphosis.

These changelings form a sub-caste in certain species of termites, functioning both as both workers, pseudergates, and also as potential replacement reproductive termite. These back-up alates can be brought on to replace dead primary reproductives and sometimes, in some species, replacement alates are brought on if a primary queen is killed.

In countries with distinct dry and rainy or monsoon seasons, like the tropics, the alates can be observed flying up from the earth in swarms that look like white streamers blowing in a breeze, immediately after a dry spell has been broken by rainfall. These alates have three pairs of wings, but they are not good fliers.

They can be seen in their thousands flying around street lights like moths, where people collect them to eat. Lightly fried in their own fat, without the wings, they are said to be, juicy, nutty and full of protein. Quite tasty, in fact. Frogs and toads sit under the street lamps eagerly awaiting a juicy meal as well.

A queen is a former winged reproductive termite (of the Winged or Alate Caste. She will have flitted away from her nest or nest of birth, dropped to the ground, shed her wings, mated and then crawled into the nearest hole in the soil (depending on her species) to establish a new colony or nest. In some species, the queen adds an further set of ovaries with each molt of her skin and can produce 2,000 eggs a day.

A male that has flown and mated with the queen is known as a king. Sometimes, these kings stay near by the queen, but sometimes they do not. At the next molt, the king will be a little larger that he was at first. However, the king and the queen are not monogamous. Several males might mate with the queen and there may be several queens within a nest.

As the queen molts and grows bigger with each molt, her abdomen can become hundreds of times its original size, although her head and legs remain the same as before. Obviously, at this size she can no longer walk as her legs do not reach the ground and would not support her weight anyway. At this juncture, she is totally dependent on the assistance of worker termites, which she controls through pheromones.

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