Reproductive termites are vital for keeping the termite colony viable and successful. If there are no reproductive termites in the colony, the colony will eventually collapse. While all termite colonies must have reproductive termites, subterranean termites of North America are the most studied and most reported.
Reproductive termites of a colony are first the king and queen of the colony. These two reproductives start the colony by mating after leaving a colony, usually in a “swarm” or nuptial flight for most common species. The couple finds a safe place free from temperature extremes and predators to start a colony. After mating, the queen lays several eggs. Upon hatching, there are soldier and worker termites. Worker termites do the “work” and soldier termites defend the colony. Reproduction is a slow process at first in that the population doesn’t build up for some time.
When a colony is healthy and eggs are hatching regularly, secondary reproductives, or neotenics, will be present. These are former baby termites or immatures which have moved to the “larva” stage and then become a wingless reproductive to supplement the colony in many subterranean termite species. These are called brachypterous neotenic reproductives. Another supplemental reproductive is the apterous neotenic reproductive which derives from workers. It serves a similar function as supplementary egg producer but it has no wing pads. Finally, winged reproductives or alates are new kings and queens and they fly from the colony to start new colonies.
It has been noted that the secondary reproductives can be more prolific than the queen. They are also mobile and are not as susceptible to predators due to their mobility. Some secondary reproductives will resemble workers in color and habit but they will be longer than most workers. As with worker termites, the soft bodied secondary reproductives must remain moist and protected.