If you have an issue with termites or even if you just that think that you may have, you will have to learn about the appearance of termites and how they behave, unless, of course, you decide to call an expert in, which is obviously the easiest course. A common description of termites is that they look like little white ants.
In spite of the fact that many termites are white, not all of them are. They are also not white ants and closer inspection of a termite will reveal that it only very superficially is similar to an ant in appearance.
In behavioural patterns, there is a closer similarity to ants, as work is divided along sexual lines, as in ants. Termites are also totally unrelated to ants. They are not even distant relatives. In fact, it has recently been realized that termites are more closely related to cockroaches.
Ants, bees and wasps belong to the Order of Hymenoptera, whereas termites have been reclassified into a Super Order called Dictyoptera. It has been proposed that termites be reclassified as Family Termitidae within the Order of Blattodea (where cockroaches are).
Termites do vaguely look like ants, it is true, but where they resemble ants a lot more is in their behaviour. Just like ants, the workers go out and bring back food for those members of the colony that do not often (or ever) leave the nest.
However, whereas ants will tunnel to get somewhere, as termites will as well, if travelling means being exposed to daylight or predators, ants will risk it, whereas termites will construct enclosed walk-ways or galleries to get there. This is also the duty of the workers, who, just as with ants, are exclusively female and blind.
If there is a danger to the nest, then the soldiers are summoned. They have huge mandibles or jaws. Sometimes these mandibles are so big that the soldier termites cannot feed themselves and have to be fed by others. Then there are the winged termites which fly off to establish new colonies.
At the top of the hierarchy is the queen. She normally has a very distended abdomen, which can be the size of a human fist, although all other body parts, head, legs etc, remain the usual size.
Workers and nest-bound termites are invariably white to cream in colour, because they never see the sun, whereas flying termites are brown. In Thailand they are a reddish brown with three pairs of large white wings. They be inclined to swarm during or just after rainfall and they leave cracks in the ground in bursts of fifty to a hundred.
They look like streamers. Thais eat these termites, called ‘maleng maw’ – they are fatty and full of protein. When they have mated, they drop to the ground, shed their wings. Then they look for the nearest crevice in the earth to start the cycle all over again.
Termites do a huge amount of damage in warm countries, but they are still fascinating creatures and it is just considered bad luck if your house is chosen by them, unless you take adequate steps to protect your property.