Heterotermes is a termite genus from the Rhinotermitidae family. One of their closest relatives is Reticulitermes. And like its relative, some Heterotermes have also been considered pests because they form pretty large colonies; to feed all their members, they need food in massive amounts. Therefore, Heterotermes try to feed themselves by gathering cellulose food from dead tree logs, stumps, and branches, to man-made wooden structures in buildings, books, paper, etc. This article will discuss and look at the care of Heterotermes termites.
Heterotermes is one of the most adaptable termites around, and they have a relatively fast growth rate in mature colonies (if they have the perfect conditions to thrive). They can be found in very dry areas and also somewhat humid areas with plenty of wood. One of the other adaptations in Heterotermes is the relatively fast developing neotenic formation within the colony. Unlike Reticulitermes, who can form both ergatoid neotenic and nymphoid neotenic reproductives, Heterotermes is only observed to have the nymphoid neotenic caste as a secondary reproductive.
Heterotermes are very similar looking to Reticulitermes. But the soldier caste in Heterotermes is smaller than the soldier in Reticulitermes. And unlike Reticulitermes soldiers who have a curve in their mandible which starts from the base of the mandible, Heterotermes soldiers have a mandible with a curved tip instead, while the base area is straighter than Reticulitermes.
The alates of many Heterotermes and Reticulitermes are very similar in morphology. But many Heterotermes alates are more lightly pigmented (color range is usually pale yellow-brown to orange-brown) than Reticulitermes, thus the identification of this species is confusing unless observed closer.
Heterotermes are found flying in May-July and sometimes in August-November. Alates can be found flying into lights in the evenings with slight rains or after heavy rains. Heterotermes usually produce thousands of alates when a colony is a few years old and mature.
The Heterotermes species I got are still unknown because Heterotermes in India aren’t studied well. I got alates after a heavy rain storm at around 7.00-7.30 PM. Almost immediately after the flights ended, the females and males (after finding each other) will tandem run till they find a good spot to start a nest. Sometimes Heterotermes may have multiple pairs in the founding stage but the excess reproductives will be killed after the workers hatch.
They can be housed in a test tube/petri dish/small container with a substrate like tissue, toilet paper, paper, cardboard, wood, or even in moist soil with wood. The setup should be humid, but not too much, because it can trigger fungal and unwanted microbial growth.
A setup that is too dry can also kill the termites. If you are giving them the soil and wood setup, a container like a cup, tank, or something similar is preferable. They can’t climb but if you have workers they can construct tunnels that can lead them to get out so always keep an eye on the setup or just add a lid. Also, make sure to add cryptozoa like springtails just to reduce mold growth and to keep the setup clean.
After they settle down in the founding chamber, pairs will usually have eggs within 1 or 2 weeks, which will be tended to and be cared for by the alates. These eggs might take about a month or more to hatch into the 1st instar larval stage. These larvae will then take about another month to develop into the first batch. So technically it might take you about 2+ months to get the first batch.
Depending on the temperature, the growth rate might increase or decrease so it’s always advised to ensure the temperature doesn’t go below 25 Celcius degrees to keep a constant growth rate. Usually, within the first year, your colony will reach about 50 workers. Mostly then in the 2nd or 3rd years, the queen will slowly start to increase her egg production rate (but note to keep the setup in good condition with plenty of food because without good setups things can go wrong).
Well, that’s how to start a colony with alates, now let’s see about how to start a colony of Heterotermes by capturing a colony fragment. Well as I mentioned earlier, only the nymphoid neotenic caste is found as a secondary reproductive. Adultoid reproductive castes (adultoid reproductives are just developed alates who shed wings within the colony and mate inside the colony) also form when the primary pair dies or just when a part of the colony gets separated. If you can collect about 50+ workers, soldiers, and well many young nymphs (it’s better if the nymphs are below the 5th insta nymphal stage).
Usually, Heterotermes have many nymphs which usually like to move around a lot so if lucky, you can get a few of those developing reproductive nymphs by scooping up a colony fragment. If those reproductive nymphs are young they can revert themselves and molt into nymphoid neotenics and if they are older, they can/will develop into adultoid reproductives which can also just help in the colony egg laying process. Basically, just collect as many individuals as possible hoping for the best!
These newly formed nymphoid neotenics are usually about the size of the workers and don’t have visible eyes. But you can identify them easily once you see them because of their orange pigmentation and the undeveloped small wing buds in the thorax region which isn’t seen on the workers.
Well, this is just an overview of basic care; I hope this is helpful. If you have something you might like to add which are lacking in this article please send it to us.
Article and photos courtesy of Dulneth Wijewardana from Sri Lanka, who has been rearing termites and ants as a hobby for the past few years. Catch his YouTube channel at Termites International.