Like other eusocial insects, termites live in a colony with a caste system. Inside the nest, each caste has its own responsibilities and tasks making sure the survival of the nest members.

The royal pairs (King & Queen)

Their sole function over a life of many years is the continuously laying of eggs. Queen ( with a large, white abdomen) can live up to 20 years and is able to reproduce 2,000 eggs per day.

Alates (Flying swarmers)

They are the wing reproductive in the colony; Alates form when the termite colony are well established. Their role is to start a new colony outside the existing nest. Usually, emerge and swarm at night after the rain.


When disturbed, the soldier is the first one to emerge from the mud tubes. Their job is to protect the nestmates from insects such as ants. Soldier termites have prominent jaws and some can emit a chemical repellent as a form of defence.


These are the MVP in the termite world. 90% of termites’ colony consists of termite workers. Their job is to build nests and tunnels, make sure the nest is free of pathogens, actively forage for food and then feed to all other members,

Termites are generally categorized by their nesting behaviour and feeding preferences (the way of digesting cellulose).

Nesting Behaviour

Subterranean Termites (family: Rhinotermitidae)

Subterranean termites get their name from their habit of nesting underground. They are dependent on soil moisture to survive desiccation. Hence, they rarely walk on the ground nakedly/ without building mud tunnels (mud tubes). They are the most responsible for the control and damage cost

Coptotermes spp are the important termite species attacking houses in Malaysia.

Drywood Termites (family: Kalotermitidae)

As their name suggests, They are dry-wood-dwelling termite (as compared to subterranean termite, which is soil-dwelling termite); They are not dependent on soil moisture, hence, their presence does not come together with mud trails. Drywood termites damage are slow and less destructive as compared to Subterranean termites in short term. They are known to produce frass (droppings).

Dampwood termite (family: Archotermopsidae)

Dampwood termite nest in high moisture content wood. Most Dampwood termites do not require contact with the soil. Dampwood termites are rarely found in homes or other man-made structures since wood in these structures typically does not have enough moisture.

Feeding Preferences

Lower termites

These termites are more related to primitive termites.

The protists living in lower termites guts is essential for wood-feeding. This feature makes lower termites depend highly on wood cellulose and hence contribute to their power of wood destruction.

Higher termites

If the lower termite is 1.0, then the higher termite is 2.0.

They are more evolved than the lower termite in the terms of behaviour, anatomy, social structure and nest structure.

Most importantly, they possess a greater variety of gut bacteria. This gives the higher termites a wider choice of food, other than wood. So, they do lesser damage than their primitive counterpart.

By understanding the biology and difference between the termites is important for successful termite control.

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