The termite workers, soldiers, the king and queen are the permanent and essential foundation of the city which, under an iron law more severe than that of Sparta, pursues in obscurity its miserly, sordid and monotonous existence.
Then the inviolable citadel whose walls, under pain of death for all the colony, never reveal a crevice other than those necessary for ventilation; whose every channel of connection with the outside world is of stern necessity underground; is seized with a sort of frenzy, and suddenly displays interstices behind which lurk the monstrous heads of the soldiers, denying entrance or exit.
These openings communicate with galleries or corridors where all is now impatience for the nuptial flight. Thereupon, according to every traveller who has witnessed it, a spectacle is seen in comparison with which the swarming of the bees becomes insignificant. From the huge building, be it stack or pyramid or fortress, often, when there is an agglomeration of cities, from an area of hundreds of acres, there rises, as from an overcharged, bursting cauldron, pouring from every chink, every crevice, a cloud of vapour formed of millions of wings mounting to the blue, in the doubtful and nearly always frustrate search for love.
Scarcely has the last of the winged insects taken its flight than-still by the mysterious order of the intangible governing power the termitary closes, the openings are walled up; and those who have issued forth seem inexorably excluded from their native city.
Others maintain that here and there a wretched couple succeed in escaping from the disaster, are picked up by the workers and soldiers of a neighbouring colony, and are used to fill the place of a dead or exhausted queen. There are naturalists who assert
that a couple can manage to live for a year, and rear soldiers to defend and workers to nourish them afterwards. So there are a thousand chances to one that a couple, if by some miracle they succeed in regaining their native home, will be blood-relations. We shall find again and again that the termites, in the same manner as we ourselves and in contradistinction to the habits of all animals reputed to be guided by instinct, are above all opportunists; and although following the main lines of their destiny, are able in case of need to bend them to circumstance as man does, and to adapt them to the necessity or even the suitability of the moment.
In principle, whether it be to satisfy the aspirations of the species or of the future, or in obedience to an inveterate idea of nature, they practise swarming, although it is a prodigious burden and 99 times in a 100 utterly useless; but in case of necessity they curtail and control or even dispense with it, and suffer no great inconvenience from such abstention.
In principle, to complete this enumeration, their queen must have wings and have seen the light of day: in case of necessity, they fill her place with some thirty wingless layers that have never left the nest. In principle, every termitary is inhabited only.
We have said that the normal regime is monarchy. The termites are content, in nearly every instance, to produce blind, wingless layers which discharge all the duties of a queen properly so called, nor does the city bulky and with considerable differences of shape and essential organs. Some termitologists declare that these neotinic layers cannot produce kings and queens, and that their offspring lack wings and eyes; in other words, never become perfect insects.
There, as is well known, these parasites play an interesting part and multiply in fantastic fashion. As a rule, three such lice can be counted on one of these ants, taking up their quarters carefully and methodically, one under the chin, the other two under each side of their host's abdomen, so as not to disturb the balance of its walk. Attracted by the sweet smell, other ants draw near and crave their share of the windfall. After all, we understand very little about the insect world, which is governed by senses and feelings that have hardly anything in common with our own. The number of classified guests in the termitary amounted to 496, of which 348 were coleoptera.
Fresh ones are being discovered every day. There are the genuine guests (Symphiles), which are hospitably entertained; others (Synoeketes), merely tolerated by careless hosts; (Synechtres), which are intruders; and the parasites properly so-called, and unwelcome (Ecto-parasites).