are a group of eusocial insects
that, until recently, were classified at the taxonomic rank
of order Isoptera
below), but are now accepted as the epifamily Termitoidae
, of the cockroach order Blattodea
. While termites are commonly known, especially in Australia
, as "white ants
", they are only distantly related to the ants.
, and some bees
—which are all placed in the separate order Hymenoptera
—termites divide labor among castes, produce overlapping generations and take care of young collectively. Termites mostly feed on dead plant material
, generally in the form of wood, leaf litter
, soil, or animal dung, and about 10% of the estimated 4,000 species (about 2,600 taxonomically known) are economically significant as pests that can cause serious structural damage to buildings, crops or plantation forests. Termites are major detritivores
, particularly in the subtropical
regions, and their recycling of wood and other plant matter is of considerable ecological importance.
insects, termites live in colonies that, at maturity, number from several hundred to several million individuals. Colonies use decentralised, self-organised
systems of activity guided by swarm intelligence
which exploit food sources and environments unavailable to any single insect acting alone. A typical colony contains nymphs (semimature young), workers, soldiers, and reproductive individuals of both sexes, sometimes containing several egg-laying queens.