Termites were once classified in a separate order from cockroaches, but recent phylogenetic studies indicate that they evolved from cockroaches, as sister to Cryptocercus.
Like ants and some bees and wasps from the separate order Hymenoptera, termites divide as “workers” and “soldiers” that are usually sterile. All colonies have fertile males called “kings” and one or more fertile females called “queens”.
Termites mostly feed on dead plant material and cellulose, generally in the form of wood, leaf litter, soil, or animal dung. Termites are major detritivores, particularly in the subtropical and tropical regions, and their recycling of wood and plant matter is of considerable ecological importance.
Termites are among the most successful groups of insects on Earth, colonizing most landmasses except Antarctica. Their colonies range in size from a few hundred individuals to enormous societies with several million individuals.
Termite queens have the longest known lifespan of any insect, with some queens reportedly living up to 30 to 50 years. Unlike ants, which undergo a complete metamorphosis, each individual termite goes through an incomplete metamorphosis that proceeds through egg, nymph, and adult stages.
Colonies are described as superorganisms because the termites form part of a self-regulating entity: the colony itself.
When termites detect a potential breach, the soldiers usually bang their heads, apparently to attract other soldiers for defense and to recruit additional workers to repair any breach.
Additionally, an alarmed termite bumps into other termites which causes them to be alarmed and to leave pheromone trails to the disturbed area, which is also a way to recruit extra workers.
Drywood termites thrive in warm climates, and human activities can enable them to invade homes since they can be transported through contaminated goods, containers, and ships.
Colonies of termites have been seen thriving in warm buildings located in cold regions. Some termites are considered invasive species.
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