Termites live in colonies that are organised into castes. The castes are classified into three types of termites – soldiers, workers, and alates. Here we focus on the alates (reproductive termites) where termite kings fall.
What Is A Termite King?
Compared to worker and soldier termites, king termites are larger in size, growing up to one inch long. They are valuable personalities in a termite colony next to the queen. Together with the queen, the king plays the reproductive role. The king and queen spend most of their lives underground, meaning it is hard for you to see them since they do not move around with the other termites.
Constant reproduction ensures the continuity of a colony. Therefore, the termite king keeps mating with the queen to produce alates, workers, and soldiers. Alates or swarmers are mature male and female termites that leave the nest to form new colonies elsewhere. Workers and soldiers are immature termites, with their primary roles being taking care of the colony and defending the colony, respectively. Termite kings are darker in colour than other termites in a colony. Also, worth noting is that only the king termite and the queen have eyes. Other termites are blind and use scent and moisture to navigate.
Roles Of A Termite King
Besides reproduction, king termites play other crucial roles in a termite colony. When they develop wings, they take part in the social swirl commonly known as swarming. After losing the wings, they look for females to mate, signalling the commencement of a new colony.
1. Establish A Termite Colony
The king and queen usually search for the right place to establish their colony. A preferable place for them is a moistened cavity in wood. On finding a nest, they build an enclosure to prevent disturbance and then start mating. The king termite hangs around the queen because he has to supply sperm to her regularly.
During the initial years, the termite king helps maintain the nest, while the queen produces the soldiers and workers. The queen then distributes nest maintenance and other works to other termites in the colony. Workers and soldiers act as caretakers and housekeepers. They bring food and defend the nest to keep the king and queen alive.
2. Activation Of Pheromones
Pheromones are chemical hormones that prevent other termites in a colony from being reproductive. The king termite releases this chemical hormone to maintain the colony’s social status. Both the king and the queen work together to maintain balance in their colony.
3. Keep The Colony Alive
The termite king supplies sperm to the queen for egg fertilisation. Without the king, the colony will not be functional and ultimately end since the queen cannot reproduce alone.
How Do King Termites Develop?
King termites come from swarmers – the potential queens and kings of new colonies. When a termite colony reaches a specific size, swarmers begin being produced, a process that may take three to five years. Swarmers, also referred to as alates, are termites with wings and are capable of flying. They have compound eyes which help them see during nuptial flights and are larger and darker than the workers and soldiers. A termite nuptial flight is when termites mate to produce babies.
A single termite colony can produce many swarmers that stay in the colony until the right time comes to leave. Swarmers are not the best flyers. Some break their wings as they struggle to fly. De-winged swarmers cannot fly as they look for the right place to start a new termite colony. A male swarmer will follow a female swarmer until she finds a suitable place for nesting where they start mating. On forming a new colony, the males become termite kings.
Is The King Termite Harmful?
The termite king lives a well-protected life underground. Its primary roles are to mate with the queen and to release pheromones. Since termite kings do not move out of the nest, they do not directly harm humans. But the fact that they contribute to producing other harmful termites means they cannot be considered harmless.
Do Termite Kings Have Wings?
Three forms of castes are found in a colony. The reproductive caste is comprised of winged or flying termites, also known as alates or swarmers. King termites eventually lose their wings when they move from one colony to another. Once termites develop wings, they fly away, find mates, and begin reproducing their own colonies in which they become kings and queens.
What Is The Size Of A King Termite?
Swarmer termites are around three-eighths of an inch in length. However, they continue to grow when they lose wings, with the king termite growing as much as half an inch long.
Why Do Termite Kings Produce Pheromones?
Every termite can become a queen or king. But if all of them do so, there will be chaos in the colony. A king termite, therefore, produces pheromones for termite regulation and chaos prevention. The chemical hormone ensures that the other termites in the colony do not become reproductive.
What Is The Average Termite King Lifespan?
The lifespan of king termites varies from one species to the other. An average soldier or worker can live for ten to fourteen months. A termite king can live for a period of one to four years. The queen has the longest lifespan, going up to twenty-five years and more.
Where Are You Likely To Find A King Termite?
Termites are a common sight in areas with trees, open land, and big gardens. Such features offer sufficient food and nesting places for termites. Termites also like inhabiting older structures with deteriorating timber. Rotting timber has the ideal moisture levels for termites to thrive. The perfect termite habitat is also warm.
What you are likely to see when checking out a termite colony are the workers and soldiers. The king termite is always hidden underground together with the queen. Essentially, no termite colony can exist without the king and queen. And as long as the king and queen are alive, the colony will keep expanding. An even more serious situation is finding de-winged termites that become kings and queens. It indicates new colonies are about to spring up, leading to more termite infestation in your home.
How To Eliminate King Termites
As mentioned above, it is hard to spot a termite king as it always hides underground with the queen. Anyway, it is evident that with other termites around, there is a king termite somewhere. Hence, to get rid of the king and queen entirely, you have to destroy their colony. Here are the steps to follow:
1. Identify The Termite Colony
To kill the king termite, you should find the colony it belongs to first. Check for rotten wood, especially where wood touches the ground. Mud tubes along foundations, joists, and walls will also direct you to the nesting place of termites. Drywood termites do not construct mud tunnels, though. They prefer to nest in dry wooden materials. Therefore, check for small digested wood pellets they leave behind when eating their way through the wood.
2. Apply Direct Chemicals
Direct chemicals can be applied inside your house for termite extermination. They are simple to use and highly effective when applied where a termite colony is located. Most of the approved chemicals are odourless. These chemicals work by expanding and then evaporating, leaving a residue that kills termites when they contact it. Applying the chemical directly to the colony kills all the termites, including the termite king and queen.
3. Beneficial Nematodes
Beneficial nematodes are microscopic roundworms. They are natural parasites to most garden insects, including termites. Nematodes kill termites by entering their bodies and releasing symbiotic gut bacteria that poisons their blood, killing them within a few days. You can buy nematodes in local stores or online. Mix them with cold water and potting soil, then apply the mixture to the termite colony.
4. Boric Acid
Boric acid application is a proven method for killing all the termites in a colony. Most, if not all, termite insecticides contain boric acid as one of the main ingredients. The acid dehydrates, subsequently shutting down the nervous system of termites. It is so effective that it can destroy an entire termite colony within a day or two. Apply it strategically in cracks and crevices in walls, floors, and ceilings.
5. Diatomaceous Earth
Diatomaceous earth destroys termites by penetrating their exoskeleton and dehydrating them. It is a type of powder made from the sedimented fossils of aquatic algae known as diatoms. Sprinkle the powder around the termite colony and deeper to reach the termite king.
6. Contact An Expert
It is recommended to work with an expert termite exterminator for solid results. Termite colonies are challenging to eliminate, making it necessary to seek professional help. Termite control professionals have the skills and tools required for immediate and complete termite removal. Entrust them with the task of eradicating the termites slowly wreaking havoc on your property.