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Insect Identification Key
Order Isoptera: the termites

This photo shows one species of termites, and includes both the soldier termites with their large, brownish heads and pincer-like jaws, and the worker termites with their more rounded heads. Photo credit: USDA/Scott Bauer.
Click here to see examples of more termites!

Based on your answers to the questions, you have identified your insect as being in the order Isoptera!

Members of this order include: termites.

Etymology: Isoptera comes from the Greek words iso, which means same, and ptera, which means wings. This refers to the similarity between the front and hind wings.

General characteristics:

Note: Termites have three forms: reproductive males and females, workers and soldiers. These look different from each other.

• all forms are ant-like in body shape, but with wider waists
• all forms have beaded antennae
• all forms have chewing mouthparts.
• During the breeding season only, reproductive males and females have two pairs of wings, and the two pair look alike (after the breeding season, they lose their wings)
• Soldiers and workers are wingless
• Soldiers have large heads armed with pincer-like mandibles (jaws).
• Workers have round, bulbous heads and lack the pincer-like mandibles of soldiers
• Workers are soldiers typically have pale-colored bodies, and workers often have pale-colored heads (soldiers may have darker heads)
• Reproductive males and females often have dark-colored bodies
• Workers are soldiers are either have no compound eyes, or have small compound eyes
• Reproductive males and females have well-developed compound eyes
hemimetabolous metamorphosis (egg — nymph — adult)

Click here to see examples of more termites!

Number of species worldwide: at least 1,900


Kingdom Animalia
   Phylum Arthropoda
      Class Insecta
         Order Isoptera

For a list of all of the orders in this key, click here: List of Orders.

Classification note: Rarely, you may see the order Isoptera described as a suborder of the order Dictyoptera. Most classification systems, however, consider Isoptera an order unto itself.

Oops! If this doesn't appear to be the order for your insect, go back through the key and look more carefully at your insect while answering the questions again. Your perseverance will reward you!

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Photos at the top of this website are (from left to right): potato beetle (Leptinotarsa decemlineata) — photo credit: Scott Bauer, U.S. Department of Agriculture; ebony jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata)— photo credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; sweat bee (Agapostemon splendens) — photo credit: Natalie Allen and Stephanie Kolski, U.S. Geological Survey; preying mantis, monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus), hellgrammite (aka toe biter) larva and eyed click beetle (Alaus oculatus) — photo credit: Leslie Mertz; Halloween pennant (Celithemis eponina) — photo credit: Kay Meng, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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