Different Soldier Termites Possess Very Different Defensive Features

Different Soldier Termites Possess Very Different Defensive Features

There are well over two thousand different termite species thriving in the world today. The vast majority of termite colonies include workers, soldiers, a queen and a king. But, termite caste systems are not always this simple. For example, some basal termite colonies include regular infertile soldiers as well as soldiers that are fertile. These colonies include two castes of soldiers–one typically sterile soldier caste with underdeveloped sex organs, and another reproductive soldier caste with fully developed sexual organs. These reproductive soldiers are fully capable of laying eggs. There are many termite soldiers from different species that do possess similar defensive features. For instance, most termite soldiers are blind, therefore termite soldiers must rely on tactile and chemical signals in order to locate enemies. Also, the majority of termite soldiers have long jaws containing sharp teeth, making them ideal for biting enemies. However, the similarities between soldiers from different termite species only goes so far. Since termites are one of the oldest and most diverse types of insects on the planet, it makes sense that different species have adapted a variety of different defense methods.

Some termite soldier species are relatively defenseless, while soldiers from other species are quite intimidating. One of the weaker forms of termite defense is exhibited by soldiers from the Pericapritermes species. When these termites are attacked by ants the soldiers will use their specially designed jaws to flick ants away. Unfortunately, the soldiers often end up flicking their fellow termites away as well. Other species have soldiers that possess highly effective defensive features, such as the soldiers from the Odontotermes and Coptotermes groups. These termites can spew a sticky substance through their mouthparts. This sticky substance immobilizes an enemy on contact.

It could be said that the most effective termite soldiers are the ones that die fighting for their colonies. Coptotermes formosanus (Formosan termites) and other Coptotermes species release a sticky substance from their gullets when they bite their enemies. This sticky substance is called “naphthalene”. However, releasing naphthalene depletes a soldier termite’s energy to the point where they cannot release enemies from their clenched jaws. If these soldiers do manage to open their jaws, they become too weak to defend the colony. In these situations, workers can come to the weakened soldier’s rescue, but most of the time the soldiers die as a result of their attack. When considering the vast number of termite species as a whole, they are certainly not fierce predators. But termite colonies are rarely destroyed by enemies due to the vast number of soldiers that exist in each termite colony.

Do you believe that termite colonies are immune to enemy destruction due to the vast number of termites operating in a single colony?

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