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Termite life cycle

The termite life cycle is one of the unique developmental stages compared to the other eusocial insects, like most types of ants or bees. Termites live in colonies that contain three main castes which have different functions and/or responsibilities in preserving the colonies

Knowing how termites grow and develop based on their life cycle is important for effective termite prevention and elimination in order to protect your property from costly damage.

Learn more about each developmental stage of the termite life cycle on this page. Alternatively, fill in the online form below if you suspect you have termite at your property.

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The developmental stages of termite life cycle

In general, all termite species undergo incomplete metamorphosis consisting of three developmental stages.

The incomplete metamorphosis in the termite life cycle means the young nymphs resemble adults but do not have the ability to reproduce. They need to molt several times until they reach the adult stage.

The termite life cycle consists of three developmental stages, including:

  • Eggs
  • Nymph / larvae
  • Adult

The termite life cycle begins with a mating flight in which reproductive males and females termites land and shed their wings to form new colonies.

These two reproductive termites (male and female) will become the king and queen as well as the center of the termite life cycle process in the newly established colonies. However, the chances of forming new colonies from the swarming process are only 1-2%.


In a single day, a fertilized termite queen can lay about several hundred or thousand eggs in a royal chamber. This is the reason why the termite queen is known to be the veritable egg-laying machine.

Termite eggs are small, white, translucent, and oval-shaped. The size of termites' eggs is normally large enough to be visible to the naked eye. However, termites generally lay their eggs in secluded locations such as inside the gallery or within the mud tubes - and it's very difficult to detect without professional training.

Nymph or larvae

It takes about 30 days for termite eggs to hatch into larvae. However, the length of time the termite eggs hatch may vary - depending on some factors including termite species and environmental conditions.

Once the termite eggs hatch, termite larvae are born. Larvae or young nymphs are immature termites that are very small in size (as small as the termite eggs), soft bodies, white in color, and resemble small adult termites.

They are immature and unable to digest food by themselves. Thus, at the beginning of its appearance, larvae fed exclusively through the salivary glands of the termite queen and king. Over time, they will be cared for and fed by young worker termites.

Larvae will go through a series of molts by shedding their exoskeletons to become one of the 3 castes: worker, soldier, or reproductive.

Termite nymph reproductives

Larvae that develop into nymphs are destined to become one of the reproductive termite castes after continuing the molting process. While in wait, nymphs take care of the larvae, king and queen termites.

There are 2 types of termite nymph reproductives:

  • Primary reproductives: Long-winged termite nymph
  • Secondary reproductives: Short-winged termite nymph

Long-winged termite nymph

After several molts, termite nymphs have a larger body than the other castes, develop their eyes and wing buds that eventually develop into full wings for swarming preparation.

They are male and female and will develop into alates that will leave the colony to mate when the weather is suitable and find new colonies.

Short-winged termite nymph

Only a small percentage of termite larvae developed into short-winged termite nymphs. They grow their eyes, but their wings do not develop any further like long-winged termite nymphs. These immature termites without wings soon will develop into neonetic.


When termites reach the adult stage, they will form larger colonies, and determine the composition within the colony based on caste. These colonies include:

  • Mature termite reproductives: alates (flying termites), termite queen and king, and neonetics
  • Termite workers
  • Termite soldiers

In general, the composition of castes in most termite species is up to 85% consists of termite workers, and the remaining 15% are divided into termite reproductives and soldiers.

Alates or flying termites

Image of flying termites
Image of flying termites

Alates or also known as flying termites are winged male and female reproductives that have primary responsibilities in dispersal and starting new colonies.

At least once per year, termite reproductives (swarmers) will emerge from the nest in large numbers and take flight in certain weather conditions or temperatures (i.e the rainy season).

Shortly after they land, they will shed their wings, find their respective pairs and become permanent queens and kings to begin the process of creating a new colony. However, the queen and king will not mate until they find a suitable place.

In the case of subterranean termites, both the new king and queen termites will look for a place to mate by excavating a small space in the soil. On the other, species of termites like drywood and dampwood termites will look to the most suitable wood to build their nest and lay the eggs.

The emergence of flying termites can be the first indication for every homeowner if they have a termite infestation.

Learn more about the flying termites here

Termite queen and king

Image of subterranean termite queen
Image of subterranean termite queen

Once inside the nest, the female and male termites are regarded as the queen and king. Termite queen and king will remain within the nest for the rest of their lives. These 2 insects are responsible for reproduction and become the center of the life cycle of termite.

The main and only responsibility of the termite queen is to lay the eggs. Since the termite queen's abdomen is so large, she can hardly move and needs the help of termite workers to feed them.

Contrarily, the termite king always lives next to the termite queen and is only responsible for mating. Together with the queen, the king has the responsibility to determine the role of each offspring in a colony using their pheromones (workers, soldiers, and reproductives).

Learn more about the termite queen here


Neonetics are secondary or supplementary reproductive types which can develop from nymphs or other castes depending on the termite species. They will take over egg-laying for the colony and ensure survivorship of the colony in certain circumstances, such as if the queen is dead or incapacitated.

Termite workers

What does a worker termite look like?
What does a worker termite look like?

Termite workers make up the largest number in a colony. As the name implies, termite workers are in charge of the majority of the labor in termite colonies.

Termite workers are the castes of termite that are responsible for the care of eggs and the young, constructing tunnels and excavating galleries, and repairing the nests. They are also responsible for foraging for food, and feeding other nest mates.

Termite soldiers

Image of subterranean termite soldier
Image of subterranean termite soldier

Termite soldiers are the second-largest member of a termite colony after the worker caste. The main responsibility of termite soldiers is to defend and protect the colony against the attack from their natural predators, such as ants.

The main characteristic of termite soldiers is that they have a large head with large and powerful mandibles that contain sticky fluids or chemical spray to fend off the enemies. However, the shape of the soldier head and mandibles can vary among different species and serve as a useful characteristic for the identification.

How long do termites live?

Unfortunately, there are no prone answers to the questions above. Becasue in fact, there are a number of factors that might affect the termite lifespan, including castes, species, natural predators, and environmental conditions.

However, one thing you have to know is termite queens are the oldest termite in the colony since they have an extraordinary length of lifespan. Termite queens can live for many years or equal to 15 - 20 years.

Regardless of how long a termite can live, termites are always around us, and their infestations can cause a serious problem if left uncontrolled over time.

Don’t wait until it’s too late. Call Rentokil at 150808 or contact us online today to schedule a free termite inspection at your home or business.

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