November 5, 2020
It's time for today's #BenInNature update! Yesterday we looked at the eastern subterranean termite Reticulitermes flavipes, and today we're looking at them again -- although if you go back and look at yesterday's picture, you'll notice that these guys look pretty different!
These termites are what are known as "alates," which means the winged reproductive caste of a social insect colony. Ants also produce alates, and if you're a wingless social insect that lives in a colony, alates provide a wonderful solution to a pretty serious problem: how do you create a new colony some distance from your own and continue your species when you're tiny and can't make it very far from your nest? The answer: sprout wings and flutter away!
When a termite colony gets big enough and the conditions are right -- usually meaning a warm, damp day -- eastern subterranean termite alates will leave the nest and take flight. The alates are both male and female, and they'll fly until their wings literally fall off and they tumble to the ground. Once on the ground, they'll wander around until they find a good mate, and then they'll seek out a suitable place to build a new nest. After digging a nuptial chamber, the termites will mate and the female will become a queen and begin laying eggs. While she doesn't lay too many at first, if the colony is successful, she could eventually lay as many as 30,000 eggs per day!
As mentioned, alates tend to take flight on warm, wet days. I'm reminded of the time a good friend of mine took a hot shower at his old house and then went back into the bathroom a couple hours later to find every square inch of every surface covered in eastern termite alates. Not to give you nightmares or anything.
Social distancing can be difficult, but it presents a great opportunity to become reacquainted with nature. In this series of posts, Administrator of Science Ben Williams ventures outdoors to record a snapshot of the unique sights that can be found in the natural world. New updates are posted Monday - Friday, with previous posts highlighted on the weekends.
NATURE PHOTO IDENTIFICATIONS
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