Flying Termites Take a Harmful Journey to a New Life

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Flying Termites Take a Dangerous Journey to a New Life

It’s a crucial operation for the survival of the species. So soldier termites guard the crowds. Soldiers have huge heads with menacing mandibles to defend against predators.

In everyday colony life, soldiers watch over the workers, these milky-white nestmates who raise the young.

Because they’re both blind, this soldier vibrates his head to warn workers of dangers, like this exposed spot where the bark has peeled off. They could be picked up outdoors. So they retreat to safety.

The danger is greatest on this momentous day when the alates come out and fan out.

Ants attack them when they appear, and the termite soldiers are quickly overwhelmed. The ants carry the alate away piece by piece to feed their hungry colony.

Spiders make do with a few of these, too. Everyone wants a piece of it.

The survivors fly a short distance, sometimes just a few meters. Alates can see what helps them find mates from nearby colonies where the same exodus is underway.

They shed their wings and the male follows the female’s scent fairly closely. Soon they will dig into the earth and establish their own colony and crown themselves king and queen. These two alone will spawn thousands of termites.

They all groom each other to get rid of anything that might be making the colony sick.

And the workers look for the termites’ only food—the cellulose that gives the wood its structure.

Termites eat rotting trees and break them down. In this way they are incredibly useful.

But they become our enemy when they look for wood in our houses. They build tubes of saliva and soil to connect their nest to yours. The insects dry out easily and need these covered shelters to stay moist. Once in, they eat along the grain of the wood.