Termite breeding complexities: primary and secondary reproductives
There is a large difference between the termite Queen, the termite King, and the alates, or secondary reproductive termites. Termites breed a large number of secondary reproductives to decrease chances of a family’s extinction. Termite reproductive processes are one of the most complex in the universe; one termite larva has the potential to become a member of any termite caste, depending on any of several variables throughout its younger life:
Primary Reproductives: Termite Queens and Kings
The size and appearance of the primary reproductive termites depends on the species of termite at hand. Termite queens in the tropics, for example, may reach up to five inches long and produce over one thousand eggs daily. Luckily, most of you don’t have to worry about that.
Monogamy in termite colonies
Surprisingly, in comparison to most other insects, termite reproductives are monogamous. Once a queen and king have settled together, they mate only with each other, producing large colonies that in turn carry the same incestuous family gene further.
Termite death-matches and the plight of secondary reproductives
In most instances, secondary reproductives—alates—serve as caretakers for the young. These termites are capable of becoming primary reproductives, but a pheromone inhibitor (a chemical emitted by the dominant queen and king of the colony) prohibits the further molting that needs to occur for them to become independent.
This exceptional behavior among normally harmonious and unassuming secondary reproductives has caused some stir in the scientific community, particularly in the genetic field.
It seems that the behavior, as drastic as it seems, serves to carry further Darwin’s theory of survival of the fittest.
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