Termites (Isoptera)

Greek "iso" (equal) + "ptera" (wings)

Termites are the only insect order besides Hymenoptera (ants, bees, wasps) that have a complex social system. Communal nests include thousands of immature soldiers and workers, which are wingless, plus a king and queen having two pairs of membranous wings, roughly equal in size. The wings are shed after mating. Termites are most common in tropical forests, where they are the most populous organism in the forest, and are responsible for consuming up to a third of all dead wood. Termites eat wood, but they can't digest it - it is digested for them by bacteria or protozoa that live in their digestive system. The termites eat the bi-product of this digestion as well as the bacteria and protozoa themselves.


click for enlargement
Western Termite
T. W. Davies © 1999 California Academy of Sciences
click for enlargement
Western Termite
© 2006 Joyce Gross
click for enlargement
Western Termite
© 2006 Joyce Gross

Quick ID

  • They live in large colonies
  • Workers & soldiers are whitish, no wings
  • King & queen are dark, with 2 pairs of similar shaped wings

More information about Termites

University of California, Berkeley    Berkeley Natural History Museums
Copyright © 1995-2010 UC Regents. All Rights Reserved.
Last updated: Jan 2, 2017