There is a hidden world beneath our feet here in the Lowveld and at its centre, a tiny but captivating character, the termite. Within the labyrinthine chambers of a termite mound, a highly organized society thrives. And within this society, a special caste known as the alates plays a pivotal role. Despite making up far less than 1% of the colony’s population they are the progenitors of their race, the only hope for the furtherance of their species. Their story unfolds in the drama of emergence at the first rains.
The Caste of Hopefuls
Deep inside the termite mound, a bustling community hums with activity. Soldiers stand guard like silent sentinels, workers labour tirelessly, and at the heart of it all, the queen reigns as the colony’s sovereign. Yet, there exists a silent longing in the mound, the yearning for renewal, and that longing rests upon the wings of the alates.
The alates, unique among their kin, are the only members of the termite colony equipped with the gift of reproduction. Their very existence is a pledge to ensure the continuation of the colony’s legacy. These winged termites carry within them the genetic code that will secure the colony’s future.
The Patient Pioneers
Unlike the rest of the colony, who are bound to the mound, alates are the patient pioneers, waiting within the chamber’s depths for their moment. Year after year, they wait, knowing that their destiny is tied to the arrival of the first rains. Their story is one of enduring patience and unwavering hope.
A Dance of Renewal
The arrival of the first rains signals the turning point in this epic tale. As the parched earth soaks up the life-giving water, it sets in motion a chain of events felt deep within the mound. The alates, sensitive to the earth’s changes, sense the moistening of the soil and the impending transformation of the world outside.
The response is nothing short of a marvel. Hundreds of thousands of alates, in a synchronized display of determination, emerge from the mound. They ascend like a living cloud, their iridescent wings, lit by the emerging sun behind, carry them into the sky.
Predators and Peril, Nature’s Cruel Balance
But in this drama of emergence, not all is hope and success. In fact, for the vast majority of these pioneers, the end is nought but failure. Nature, in its unforgiving wisdom, has woven a tale of peril into this epic. As the alates soar through the skies, they become vulnerable to a multitude of predators. Birds and mammals of all sizes and shapes, keen to seize the opportunity, await this annual feast. For most alates, their journey will be a dance with death.
A Guiding Light
Amidst the chaos, a beacon shines. Female alates once touched down and after shedding their wings, emit pheromone trails, chemical signals that call out to the male alates. Guided by these olfactory cues, males embark on their quest to find their mates. It’s a love story born in the midst of danger, a union that defies the odds.
A Subterranean Symphony
This pair’s journey leads them to the safety of the earth’s embrace. Together, they dig, creating a subterranean chamber that will become the foundation of a new termite colony. Here, the female becomes the queen, and the male, the king. Their sole purpose is to mate, ensuring the colony’s survival. In time, the queen will lay thousands upon thousands of eggs, marking the inception of a new generation of termites.
A Continuation of Life
As the new alates join forces to establish their colony, they create a new chapter in this epic tale. They build their mound, forge a social hierarchy, and ensure the prosperity of their lineage. It’s a cycle of life, a testament to nature’s tenacity and the unwavering drive to propagate life.
In the grand finale of this drama, the termite mound, with its complex social structure and divisions of labour, celebrates the bravery and tenacity of the alates. They are the torchbearers of renewal, carrying the genetic legacy of their ancestors and venturing into the unknown with every rainy season.
Their journey is a captivating story of hope, resilience, and the enduring cycle of life. The termite alates, as they take flight with the first rains, remind us of the beauty and power of nature, where every member of a species plays a vital role in the epic story of life on the African savanna.