Form and Function

Cryptoteremes cavifrons belongs to the family insect being so, it has three main body parts a head, abdomen, and thorax (Hopkins).  There are six legs present on cavifrons, the first pair are faced forward, while the last two pairs face the anterior (Krishna and Weesner 1969).  The legs of cavifrons are smaller than non drywood termites causing them to move at a slow rate (Brammer and Scheffrahn 2002). The movement of cavifrons follows the gait used by most insects, with three legs in a” ground” phase while the other three in a “swing” phase, with three legs always on the ground it gives cavifrons a relatively stable means of locomotion (Ritzman 2013).   Being a dry wood termite cavifrons lives in low moisture environments (down to 2.5% moisture level) and has adapted special rectal glands that compresses fecal matter, removing moisture and creating hard pellets that accumulate inside and outside of burrows (Brammer and Schefffrahn 2002, Baker, et al. 2001). The only members of the colony that have compound eyes are the reproductives, the lesser two castes must rely on small beaded antennae and tiny bristles located throughout the body for sensory information (Krishna 1969). The morphology of termites within a colony can vary between the three distinct castes starting with reproductives, guards, and the immature termites or workers (Kamble 1991).

The morphology of the reproductives otherwise known as king and queen or alates, varies greatly from workers and guards (Hopkins). The alates both first possess wings during “swarming” which is, the process of large numbers of alates leaving the colony via flying at once, until they find a suitable place to form a colony, and then the alates will lose their wings (Kamble 1991). The male alate will not change much after this, but the female’s abdomen will become stretched a half inch from laying thousands of eggs over a possible twenty-five year life span (Hopkins, Kamble 1991). Alates usually appear to be a darker brown distinguishing them from the other castes.

Photo courtsey of Alex Wild

The second caste the guards or soldiers have morphological characteristics that separate them from the others, such as a larger darker reddish colored head (Hopkins). The main distinction that can be made is the large set of mandibles present that serve to protect the colony against intruders, but render the soldier incapable of feeding itself and has to rely on workers for food (Hopkins). Soldiers are not capable of reproduction (Brammer and Scheffrahn 2002).Soldiers are formed when there high levels of certain hormones that trigger young larvae to begin this development (Bignell, et al. 2011). The soldiers use their large head to block the entrances of burrows from enemies in a phagromotic behavior (Baummer and Scheffrahn 2002).

Photo courtesy of Alex Wild.

The final the caste the “workers” are actually immature termites that make up the majority of the colony (Baker, Et. Al. 2001). These immature termites are “pseudergates” or false workers, the primary roles of the workers include caring for the queen and young, expanding the nest, and harvesting food (Baker, et al. 2001. Braummer and Scheffrahn 2002). The workers appear to be small and pale creamish colored, with strong mandibles strengthened with zinc to consume wood (Bignell, et al. 2011, Kamble 1991).   The mandibles crush their food together with the help of the apical tooth to break down wood fibers to turn cellulose with the help of a protozoan into useable glucose (Bignell, et al. 2011). The workers like the guards are not capable of sexual reproduction (Brammer and Scheffrahn 2002).  The immatures will over time resume development and will either become soldiers or possibly grow into alates (Bignell, et al. 2011).

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