What Are Social Insects?

close up of termites eating wood

Each species in the animal kingdom can be categorized by the innate capability of their individual organisms to interact with one another or those from other species. This characteristic is known as a species’s sociality. 

Learn more about the different types of animal sociality as we continue to answer the common question: “What are social insects?”

What Are Social Insects?

On one end of the animal sociality spectrum reside solitary animals (e.g., most reptiles) who live independently. They only interact with other animals when it has immediate benefits (mating, hunting for dinner, protecting themselves or their territory). Whether or not they lay eggs or give birth to live young, solitary animals do not nurture or care for their offspring. 

On the other hand, many species of animals lack this “survival of the fittest” quality that solitary creatures have. The most advanced degree of animal sociality, eusociality, is characterized by quite the opposite.

Eusociality and Termites 

Eusocial animal species, such as termites and ants, congregate in colonies with complex societal dynamics, including a caste system. What’s so fascinating about this is how these groups of insects seemingly resemble collectivistic human societies. 

To be classified as eusocial, an insect colony must have these three traits:

#1: A Sterile Worker Class

Termites are one great example of eusocial insect colonies, with their colonies being made of three castes: the reproductive caste, a guardian or “soldier” caste, and a worker caste; the latter two are sterile, meaning they do not reproduce. The sterile worker caste, in particular, is one of the three qualifying characteristics of eusociality.

#2: A Multi-Generational Worker Caste

Eusocial insect colonies do not consist of non-relatives, like a neighborhood or group of roommates; they’re actually big, biological families. The queen and king of a termite colony (the reproductive caste) will become the new parents of large broods of eggs multiple times. This means that termite colonies’ worker and soldier castes are a multi-generational group of siblings.

#3: Sharing Brood Care Responsibilities

As exemplified by termite colonies, the third and final trait of eusociality is cooperative brood care. The intricate social dynamics of termite colonies are similar to ants, where each colony member has an innate purpose to fulfill. The worker termite caste is instinctively responsible for ensuring that their brood are fed and provided for. 

Non-soldier worker termites have the instinct to dedicate their lives to ensuring all of the colony’s brood (e.g., eggs, larvae, pupae) are nourished and prepared for, tend to any in the colony that are injured, and feed the entire colony.

Though instinctual, the worker ant’s daily toil is nothing short of altruistic: They don’t work for personal gain or survival.

As for the soldier caste of termites, they do what their name suggests: they guard the queen as she populates the colony and protect the entire colony itself.

No Friend to Termites 

Although their social traits are interesting to learn about, we’re no friend to termites or ants colonizing places they shouldn’t be. If termites or ants have invaded your home, we’re here to help.

Our Vulcan Termite & Pest Control team has the expert knowledge you need to identify pest problems in your home or yard, and we’ll offer effective solutions for a clean, pest-free home that’s safe for you and your family.

To learn more about our affordable, highly effective pest control solutions, call us at 205-663-4200 or contact us online today.