While there are a few different species of termites in Texas, all with their own habits and behaviors, the Native Eastern Subterranean Termite is the most common, followed closely by the Formosan Subterranean Termite. So, these guys are who we’re going to focus on in this post.
The Termite’s job in nature is to break down dead trees and such making room for new trees to grow. This is a valuable service. However, when they attack your home instead of the dead trees in the forest, this is no bueno! These guys are very organized, social insects with each and everyone of them doing their part of the colony. This is true teamwork at its best. I’ll break down the different castes (classes, groupings) so you can understand how they are structured.
Workers by far outnumber the other castes and make up the majority of the termite colony. The worker is just what it sounds like, they do the all the work. They make sure that someone is always foraging for cellulose (wood products, their food), repair and build their nest and tunnels, and groom and feed other termites.
The soldiers, you guessed it, guard and protect the colony. They are equipped with mandibles to fight off any predator that tries to invade their turf. They are easily identified due to the shape and dark color of their heads. In an Eastern Sub colony soldiers only make up between 1-10% of the colony; but in a Formosan Sub colony, that figure is about 20%! Formosans like to fight apparently! Soldiers are self sacrificial. When an enemy breaches the nest, soldiers immediately swarm out of the breached area. Then the workers immediately begin fixing the hole. After the soldier defends his colony against the intruder, he is left alone to dehydrate and die, isolated from and unable to return to his colony.
Reproductives are the winged form ( swarmers/alates) of termites, the one’s you see flying around in late spring. The swarmers are dark in color and have 2 sets of identical wings with a thick uniform body, unlike a flying ant that has two sets of different sized wings and a segmented body. These reproductives (male and female) leave the nest after it is mature (3-5 years old) and pair off in hopes of starting new colonies.This is a new king and queen flying off to make a new colony, However, the majority of swarmers die because they are not able to find the right environment to start their colony. In addition to swarmers (primary reproductives) secondary reproductives (which do not have wings) are produced and take action if the king or queen dies, or if the colony is split for whatever reason, they become the king and queen to make sure their group survives.
Soldier Termites secrete a glue type material when they are in a battle royale against invaders. Sometimes, an enemy can even get stuck on their heads as they are fighting. So yes, it is possible for them to be carrying a fire ant around on their head as they are defending the colony!