To put it simply, subterranean termite colonies are comprised of a royal pair (queen and king), soldiers and workers. Mature colonies also produce reproductive swarmers (alates), which generally take flight during the spring and summer seasons in Louisiana. A single swarm is made up of thousands of male and female alates that attempt to locate a mate, as well as a proper nesting site where conditions are conducive to the growth of a new colony. The vast majority of alates perish before finding a mate, but a small number successfully breed and establish new colonies in the ground as queen and king.
The initial offspring produced by queens become workers, and they care for the queen and her offspring while also constructing the nest, which includes a compartment for the queen and king (royal chamber), as well as a nursery for developing offspring. The offspring that emerge from the queen’s eggs are known as “nymphs,” and the queen releases pheromones that trigger their growth into workers, soldiers or alates, depending on the needs of the colony. The process of nymph maturation is extremely complex, and research shows that environmental factors and intracolony grooming also play a part in determining how a nymph will mature.
While the queen is commonly recognized as the sole source of eggs, queens also emit pheromones that trigger the development of secondary reproductives (neonetics) in cases when additional workers and/or soldiers are greatly needed in a colony. For example, when a large number of colony members die or become separated from a nest, secondary reproductives can rapidly reproduce replacements in order to ensure colony survival. Research has shown that when a small number of workers and nymphs become separated from a parent colony, some of the nymphs automatically develop into secondary reproductives, allowing the lost termites to establish a new colony, and therefore, survive. This proves that environmental factors alone can determine how a nymph will develop.
Do you think that ant colonies have likely developed similar adaptations that allow them to survive unfavorable circumstances?