Termites hatch from eggs and can go through several life stages to reach maturity. Each termite egg can develop into any member of the termite caste - worker, soldier or reproductive. To make sure the colony has the right balance of termites fulfilling each role, the king and/or queen termite will produce pheromones to control the development of immature termites.
Termite Larvae, Nymphs, Workers, Soldiers and Reproductives
Eggs hatch into larvae and molt (shed their exoskeletons) to develop into workers, soldiers, primary reproductives and secondary reproductives. A nymph is a young termite that is going through molts to become a reproductive.
Since a termite colony and its needs are continually evolving, each termite's role may change over time. For instance, if the colony needs more workers, a termite nymph may go through a regressive molt to become a pseudergate worker, also called a "false worker."
Sizes of various termites in a colony:
Left to right: soldier, worker, nymph, larvae.
Drywood termites do not have a true worker class. The responsibilities of worker termites - caring for eggs, feeding soldiers and reproductives, and maintaining the nest - are handled by nymphs. Even in some subterranean termite colonies, workers and nymphs may share the role of worker.
Termite Growth: Molting
The termite growth process begins with a process called molting. First, a termite develops a soft exoskeleton under its current, hard exoskeleton. Then, once the termite has reached maturity, its outermost skeleton splits open, and the new exoskeleton enlarges and hardens. This molting process continues throughout a termite's life cycle based on the colony's needs.
Termite Life Cycle: Reaching Maturity and Swarming
The termite life cycle also includes swarming. Once reproductives become fully mature termites capable of reproducing, they develop wings and functioning eyes. The bodies of these termites, now called alates, also become harder and darker to help the swarming termites withstand exposure to light and less humid air.
When weather conditions are right, these termites will leave the nest in a swarm. Swarming termites take off to form new colonies.