The M. bellicosus termites live in colonies, but they are really more like families. Of some 30 or so insect orders, termites are the only one in which all species are categorized as highly social or “eusocial,” They are very unique due to the fact that their colonies are based on monogamy. As far as entomologists know, they are the most sophisticated families ever to evolve in the universe. The termite colony has three separate stages: juvenile, adult, and senile. The survival of their species depends on their caste system.
The smallest in size, yet most numerous of the castes, are the workers. They are all completely blind, wingless, and sexually immature. Their job is to feed and groom all of the dependent castes. Workers also dig tunnels, locate food and water, maintain colony atmospheric homeostasis, and build and repair the nest.
The soldiers’ job is to basically defend the colony from any unwanted animals. Macrotermes bellicosus has a primary and a secondary soldier type. During the juvenile period, which was estimated to be five to six years by Ruelle (quoted by Bodot, 1969) and four to six years by Collins (1981), only the smaller of the two soldier types are produced.
Soldiers have larger heads that are longer and wider than that of the workers because they contains more muscle. The soldiers can not feed themselves and must rely on the workers for this. Some termite genera soldiers can be different sexes; however, the Macrotermitinae are mainly all females.
“When the large soldiers of Macrotermes attack, they emit a drop of brown, corrosive salivary liquid which spreads between the open mandibles. When they bite, the liquid spreads over the opponent. The secretion has not been chemically identified yet, but it is commonly stated that it is toxic or else undergoes coagulation with the air, which renders it glue-like” (Edward O. Wilson., The Insect Societies, 1971).
Finally, there are the reproductives. These include the king and the queen. The sole role of the king is to provide the queen with the sperm needed to fertilize her eggs. F.A. Fenton, in 1956, recorded that the queen of the M. bellicosus can sometimes live as long as ten years.
The queen can sometimes grow up to six centimeters long, while the lower classes are generally less than one centimeter. The king closely resembles the queen in appearance. One difference between them is the size of the queen’s abdomen once it is swollen with eggs. Her abdomen can hold up to ten milliliters of eggs, making it the largest of all individual social insects. Termite reproductives have wings of equal size, which is where the Order name “Isoptera” originates. The Greek word isos means “same” and ptero means “wings.”