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How Long Do Termites Live?

By Chris Williams on August 7, 2014.
termite colony

Termite Queen

An individual worker termite may live only a year or two, but the colony of which it is a member can exist and grow for decades. The death of a single worker termite has no discernible effect on the colony which functions as a single cooperative entity.

It’s the Colony Life Span That is Important

A society is effective only if its members are fairly long-lived so that there is an overlap of at least two generations in life stages, allowing offspring to assist their parents. Termites are so successful because they have a complex social organization consisting of several different types, or castes, of individuals…each responsible for certain functions. A mature colony will contain workers, secondary reproductives, primary winged reproductives called alates or swarmers, soldiers, a queen, and a king.

A subterranean termite colony grows slowly when first established by a mated pair. In fact, only a few eggs may be laid the first year. A colony may be several years old before all castes are present with many thousands of individuals. Winged reproductives are not first produced by a termite colony until the colony is at least 3 or 4 years old.

Worker Termites Have a Tough Life

The king and queen have the longest life spans of any other caste in the subterranean termite colony. The queen can live and produce eggs for 10 years or more, that’s all she does. But the colony doesn’t die when the queen dies because a replacement queen is waiting in the wings. Worker termites in a colony have a much shorter life span of about two years max. It could be that they are literally worked to death. This is the chore list of a typical worker termite:

  • care for the eggs and young
  • construct tunnels
  • excavate galleries
  • repair damage to the nest
  • forage for food
  • feed the immatures, soldiers, reproductives, and other workers
  • groom nestmates
  • help defend the colony

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