Termites are usually small or medium sized, whitish or colourless insects, with short antennae. They have strong biting mouthparts with which to chew seeds, wood or leaves.

Apart from the Hymenoptera (bees, ants and wasps), termites are the only insects that live in social groups. In fact, unlike the Hymenoptera, even the young termite nymphs are active in running the termite community.

Living in a society means having a division of labour. In other words, groups of individuals have particular roles and these groups are known as castes. These are:

There are around 3,000 species in seven families. They show incomplete metamorphosis. Recent research (Inward, Beccaloni & Eggleton, 2007) has shown that termites are actually a lineage of cockroaches and not a separate insect Order as previously thought.

The Order Isoptera is now redundant with the termites now classified as Termitidae and forming part of the Blattodea.

A photograph of subterranean termite workers and a soldier.

Subterranean termite workers.
Scott Bauer, USDA

Other names for (or types of) Isoptera include:

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