Termite control aims to get rid of termites of all sizes; queens and drones alike. But did you know that the claim of the biggest termite queen belongs with the Macrotermes Bellicosus? This termite queen is probably the most colossal in terms of sheer size. No other termite species comes close to the size of this queen. There are various reasons why this queen requires such gargantuan anatomy. Today we’ll be exploring the grandeur of this queen’s robust body and its uniqueness from other termite species.
Out of the 2000 species of termites across the planet, the Macrotermes Bellicosus is widely found all over Africa and South East Asia. It’s is known as the termite species with the largest, most complex, and most advanced colony. The size of one colony can reach up to a hundred thousand termites over time. Fun fact: the Macrotermes Bellicosus is also sometimes referred to as “white ants,” but they’re not related to ants at all.
This species of termite builds their nests below ground under many layers of rich soil, forming a unique tower to house the entire colony. The nest is constructed using a mixture of their saliva and clay. Worker termites first burrow themselves under the subsoil in order to deliver sand grains and clay that is moistened with saliva. Workers thrive during the wet season as it’s much easier to build the nest when it’s raining.
The hive of the colony is usually located just above ground level. The mound includes various passages which lead to other parts of the nest. Using this complex series of passages within the hive, the Macrotermes Bellicosus termites can reach their food storage even up to 100 meters away. The temperature of the colony remains at 30 degrees Celsius with a steady humidity of 90 percent. The high humidity helps keep the nest intact. This allows the termites to survive within the independent internal temperature of the nest.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
The average Macrotermes Bellicosus queen can grow up to 6 inches in total. Some speculate that their enormous size may be a contributor to her unprecedented fertility. The queen can lay about 20,000 eggs and can have an impressive lifespan of 20 years. Even if the workers have a similar genome as the queen, worker termites can only live for a few months.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
The lifespan of most termites is usually short. The assumption is that if the termite queen is fertile, they don’t tend to live long. However, the opposite is true for the fertile Macrotermes Bellicosus queen. She can live up to 20 years and produce eggs during that time, defying the pattern of typical termites.
Macrotermes Bellicosus termites are clearly visible to the human eye. There is a distinct, slightly audible crunching sound once you step on the termite. The worker termites of this species are ⅛ – ¼ inches long on average. Even if they are large, this doesn’t mean they have a long lifespan. This is due to the jumping gene that can turn off specific genes such as the long lifespan. This is a mutation in the termite body. Regardless of the replication of the genome, it establishes itself in a different place, thus causing defects and deactivating certain genes.
Because termites are known to eat dead vegetation, their tunnels can potentially weaken plant stems. This can collapse old trees or even the structure of your home.
In order to get the proper diet, termites need the cellulose of the wood. Many workers tend to burrow themselves within dead wood. The problem with the termite body is that they have no digestive enzymes present that can break down the cellulose provided by wood.
Macrotermes Bellicosus requires indirect methods of digesting their food. They would need the power of the single-celled protozoa to digest the cellulose. While the cellulose is being digested by the protozoa, the termites then use this opportunity to turn the single cell organism into a viable food source.
The Macrotermes Bellicosus has no present intestinal protozoa so they must construct fungus combs in the nest to properly digest the cellulose. These fungus combs are covered in sponge-like masses of wood pulp derived from feces that are covered with mycelium of fungal hyphae and sporangia. The fungus then digests the wood, but just enough so that the termites can enjoy their nutrition.
Did you know that termites go through incomplete metamorphosis? Most termites in the colony either stay as nymphs, workers, or soldiers. However, just because of the rainy season, nymphs undergo their metamorphosis. Here, they finally develop reproductive organs and wings. Once they mature, they emerge during the night and fly off to the surrounding areas. Males and females also start to mate to create a new colony. During these activities, the queen once again lays thousands of new eggs.
Termite control is amazing. Many of us should be glad that the population of these giant termites can be regulated. But it’s always a good thing to learn more about the insects one might encounter in the Philippines. The biggest termite queen is an interesting sight to behold.