All members of the order Isoptera are eusocial insects. Termites feed primarily on the cellulose and lignin found in plant cell walls; these compounds are the main ingredients of wood and all paper products. Termites cannot digest the cellulose directly so they rely upon symbiotic bacteria and protozoa living within their intestines to supply most of the enzymes needed for cellulose digestion. Termites are sometimes called white ants. They may resemble ants in size, but ants have a narrow waist and elbowed antennae while termites have a thick waist and antennae that resemble a string of beads.
Ecologically, termites play an important role in the environment by helping to break down and recycle dead wood and other plant tissues. They become pests when their appetite for wood and wood products extends to human homes, fence posts, building materials, cardboard, and other valuable products. In tropical and subtropical forests where termites are abundant, railroads must use expensive metal ties because wooden ones are quickly destroyed.
The Termite Colony.
Each termite lives in a nest or colony with hundreds, thousands, or even millions of its brothers and sisters. In fact, the termite colony is really a large, extended family. Within this family, various groups of individuals have different functional roles according to a “caste system”.