Termites, sometimes known as white ants, are a group of eusocial insects usually classified at the taxonomic rank of order, Isoptera.
Termites feed on dead plant material, generally in the form of wood, leaf litter or soil, and about 10% of the 4,000 odd species (about 2,600 taxonomically known) are economically important as pests that can cause serious structural damage to buildings, crops or plantation forests.
Termites are significant detrivores, particularly in the subtropical and tropical regions, and their recycling of wood and other plant matter is of considerable ecological importance.
As social insects, termites live in colonies that, at maturity, number from several hundred to several million individuals.
They are a prime example of decentralised, self-organised systems using swarm intelligence and use this cooperation to exploit food sources and environments that could not be available to any single insect acting alone.
A typical colony contains nymphs (semi-mature young), workers, soldiers, and reproductive individuals of both sexes, sometimes containing several egg-laying queens.
Because of their wood-eating habits, termites sometimes do great damage to buildings and other wooden structures.
Their habit of remaining concealed often results in their presence being undetected until the timbers are severely damaged and exhibit surface changes.
Once termites have entered a building they do not limit themselves just to wood, also damaging paper, cloth, carpets, and other cellulosic materials.