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The reproductive caste of a mature colony includes a fertile female and male, known as the queen and king.61 The queen of the colony is responsible for egg production for the colony. Unlike in ants, the king mates with her for life.62 In certain species, the abdomen of the queen swells up dramatically to increase fecundity, a characteristic known as physogastrism.61 Depending on the species, the queen begins producing reproductive winged alates at a certain period of year, and enormous swarms emerge from the colony when nuptial flight begins.
A young termite nymph. Nymphs first moult into employees, but others may further moult to become soldiers alates.
Termites are often compared with all the social Hymenoptera (ants and various species of bees and wasps), but their differing evolutionary origins result in significant differences in life cycle. In the eusocial Hymenoptera, the employees are entirely female. Men (drones) are haploid and develop from unfertilised eggs, while females (both workers and the queen) are both diploid and grow from fertilised eggs.
Depending on species, male and female employees may have different functions in a termite colony.63.
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The life span of a termite begins with an egg, but is different from that of a bee or ant in that it goes through a developmental process called incomplete metamorphosis, with egg, nymph and adult phases.64 Nymphs resemble little adults, and go through a series of moults as they grow.
The development of nymphs into adults can take months; the time frame depends on food availability, temperature, and the general population of this colony. Since nymphs are unable to feed themselves, employees must feed thembut employees also get involved in the social life of their colony and have certain other tasks to accomplish such as foraging, building or maintaining the nest or tending to the queen.5367 Pheromones govern the caste system in termite colonies, preventing all but a very few of the termites from becoming fertile queens.68.
Queens of the eusocial termite Reticulitermes speratus are capable of a long lifespan without sacrificing fecundity. These long-lived queens have a significantly lower degree of oxidative damage, including oxidative DNA damage, than employees, soldiers and nymphs.69 The decreased degrees of damage appear to be due to increased catalase, an enzyme that protects against oxidative stress.69.
Termite alates only depart the colony when a nuptial flight takes place. Alate men and females pair up together and then land in search of a suitable place for a colony.70 A termite king and queen do not mate until they find such a place. When they perform , they excavate a room large enough for both, shut up the entrance and move to mate.70 After mating, the pair never go outdoors and spend the rest of their lives in the nest.
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By way of instance, alates in certain species emerge during the day in summer while others emerge during the winter.71 The nuptial flight may also begin at see dusk, when the alates swarm around regions with lots of lights. The time when nuptial flight begins depends on the environmental conditions, the time of day, moisture, wind speed and precipitation.71 The number of termites in a colony also varies, with the bigger species normally having 1001,000 individuals.
The queen only lays 1020 eggs in the very early phases of the colony, but lays as many as 1,000 per day when the colony is several years old.53 At maturity, a primary queen has a great capacity to lay eggs. In some species, the mature queen has a greatly distended abdomen and may produce 40,000 eggs per day.72 The two adult ovaries may possess some 2,000 ovarioles each.73 The abdomen increases the queen's body length to several times more than prior to mating and reduces her ability to maneuver freely; attendant employees provide assistance. .
The king grows only slightly larger after initial mating and continues to partner with the queen for life (a termite queen can live between 30 to 50 years); this is quite different from ant colonies, in which a queen teammates once together with the man (s) and stores the gametes for life, as the male ants die shortly after mating.6267 If a queen is absent, a termite king produces pheromones which encourage the development of replacement termite queens.74 As the queen and king are monogamous, sperm competition does not occur.75.
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Termites going through incomplete metamorphosis on the path to becoming alates form a subcaste in certain species of termite, functioning as potential supplementary reproductives. These supplementary reproductives only grow into main reproductives upon the death of a king or queen, or when the primary reproductives are separated from the colony.6676 Supplementaries have the capacity to replace a deceased primary reproductive, and there may also be greater than just a single supplementary within a colony.53 Some queens have the ability to change from sexual reproduction to asexual reproduction.