Termites are considered social insects. They rely upon members of their group, called a colony, to do specific tasks that enable the colony to thrive. A typical termite colony can have 60,000 members.
Termites develop in stages, similar to other insects. Subterranean and non-subterranean termites have a gradual metamorphosis. The reproductive termites in the colony complete the first stage, the egg stage, by laying eggs. In a new colony, the primary reproductives lay a small number of eggs, which will hatch into workers. This is the largest group of termites that a colony needs. The workers are responsible for the building of and caring for the colony, as well as the feeding of many of the members.
In developed colonies, the eggs hatch into the larvae and begin a series of moltings that will develop them into the separate caste, or group, that the colony needs. A total of 4 different castes are present in colonies: workers, soldiers, primary reproductives and supplementary reproductives.
The worker termites care for the developing larvae. The soldiers, when they develop, protect the colony from invaders, and are also cared for by the workers. The primary reproductives are usually the king and queen of the colony. The queen will lay a number of eggs, and that is her main function. However, it is the duty of the supplementary reproductives to add to the queen's egg laying. Unlike other insect colonies, the supplementary reproductives are responsible for a majority of the eggs that are laid in the colony.
A unique characteristic in termite colonies is that they will communicate chemically to determine what types of larvae should be developing. The soldiers and reproductives transfer chemicals to the other members. This will limit the production of more soldiers and reproductives, thus maintaining a balance of colony members. During molt stages, termites can develop into the type of termite that the colony has the highest need for.