Do All Termite Species Have Soldiers?
When it comes to termites, most of us know only a few things about them besides their affinity for wood. For example, it is common knowledge that termites are similar to ants in that they form and live in colonies. Of course, not all termites within a colony are equals, as termite colonies are divided into caste systems. There are the kings and queens, which are the only termites that can reproduce. There are also workers and soldiers, which cannot reproduce. Many different termite species exist around the world, and they all have their similarities and differences. But you would not think that any colony of termites could survive without soldiers, right? As it turns out, there are termite species that do not include soldiers, but you won’t find them in America, yet.
In the tropical regions of Africa and South America there exists groups of termites that thrive despite not having a soldier caste. Not a whole lot is know about these termites, but these soldierless termites make up a part of the large Termitidae family. Within this family there are a few genera that do not have a soldier caste. Apicotermes, Anoplotermes, Protohamitermes, and Invasitermes are the only four genera of termites within the Termitidae family that do not produce soldiers, but there could be more.
Since these groups of termites do not have soldiers, the workers take on extra duties. For example, the workers will use the contents of their guts to make traps for enemy insects. These termites will also seal up cracks within the nest in order to prevent insect invasions.
Surprisingly, these termite groups still thrive in forest environments, despite not benefiting from a soldier caste. The termites simply avoid contact with ants or any other insect that could be aggressive. Sometimes, these soldierless termites may encounter an invading ant within their nest. When this happens the termite will react by spilling its deadly and sticky guts onto the ant. This defense method kills both the ant and the termite, but the mess left behind plugs the hole made by the invading ant. You could think of these termites as the pacifists of the termite community.
From an evolutionary standpoint, why do you think it would be beneficial to form colonies in which soldier termites are absent?