Termite colonies are structured like other insect colonies, such as ant or bee colonies. The central member of any colony is the queen. Protecting and nurturing a termite queen is critical to the success of the colony. But termite colonies are not solely dependant on the reproductive abilities of a solitary queen.
A queen termite is a member of the 3-caste system that divides most colonies. Workers, soldiers and reproductives are the 3 types of castes. The reproductives will pair up during a swarm, shed their wings and burrow into the soil. They will mate and produce only a few eggs. When the reproductive female of the pair matures into the queen, she will lay 5,000 to 10,000 eggs per year, depending on the type of termite. Some queens of termite species, like the Formosan termite, will lay 1,000 eggs per day.
Termite queens can live for many years. The other members of the caste system support the queen. The workers in a mature colony can number up to 60,000. They are responsible for all the maintenance of the colony, along with caring for and feeding the queen, and creating the tunnels for transportation. Another caste member, the soldier, protects the colony from invaders.
The reproductives are divided into two groups, supplementary and primary. The supplementary reproductives lay eggs, in addition to the queen's eggs, and can be used to replace the queen quickly if she dies. In most colonies, supplementary reproductives are responsible for the majority of egg laying. A mature queen in a colony of a million termites may have laid just 10,000 eggs in her lifetime. The rest are laid by the supplementary reproductives. The primary reproductives are the swarming termites. These termites leave the colony in pairs to mate and establish other colonies.