Common name(s): termites, white ants
Small to medium in size (usually around 20 mm). Mandibulate (with variable mouthpart development in different castes), antennae are long and multisegmented. Compound eyes are often reduced. In winged Isoptera, the fore and hind wings are usually similar, with reduced venation. The body terminates in 1 to 5 segmented-cerci.
Immature stages are morphologically variable (polymorphic) according to caste.
External genitalia is most often absent. Gonads are poorly developed in adult soldier and worker castes.
Fun facts: There are approximately 2300 described species of Isoptera. Seven families and 14 subfamilies of termites are recognized. Isoptera is the only hemimetabolous insect that exhibits social behaviour. Termites are social insects that are divided into several castes. Each caste has a different morphology for different tasks; reproductive, workers and soldiers. Body structure among the castes is modified: Soldiers have modified mouthparts to act as "weapons," and the reproductive queen is literally almost all reproductive tissue.
Internal anatomy is adapted to the ingestion of cellulose, a very difficult food to digest. The elongated hindgut contains symbiotic bacteria. Food exchange between individuals is the sole means of replenishment of symbiots to young and newly-moulted insects (when an insect moults, it loses all of its cuticle. The cuticle extends throughout the digestive tract, hence when the cuticle is shed, everything in the digestive tract, including the beneficial bacteria, goes).
Nests may be simple galleries or may be complex structures within wood; rotting wood or even living, solid trees. Termites feed on wood and cellulose-rich material; some even harvest grasses and take the food back to the nest.
Termites build some of the most amazing nests. Some African species build mounds that are more than 10 feet high. The nests are built from masticated wood fibres and have a complex tunnel system that allows air circulation, temperature modulation and protection from predators.
The name Isoptera is derived from the Greek; "iso", meaning equal, and "ptera", meaning wings. This is because the four wings of the winged varieties are similar.
Isoptera is the sister group to the Blattodea and the Mantodea.
sourced, in part, by The Insects: An outline of entomology, second ed. Gullan, P.J. and P.S. Cranston. Blackwell Science, Great Britain, 2000.