There may be a lot to admire about the way reproductive termite kings conduct their lives. No need to wonder that they are called kings.
In their youth, they develop and grow wings and then become caught up in the social whirl called swarming. In most swarms there are substantially more males than females, thus ensuring that each female will be sure to find a male just when she needs him. This group of mixed males and females flit around in the large swarm and finally some female termite will attract a male by releasing some odorous pheromone, and the two of them will fly off together to establish a new home.
The King Termite Helps Establish a Colony
Depending on the species of termite, this king and queen termite will find a cavity in some piece of wood or some other place where they can form an enclosure where they will be undisturbed in their mating. Some investigators believe that the king deposits sperm once and for all and the queen has that supply to draw on all her egg-laying life. However, the fact that in almost all termite nests wherever a queen is found, there will be a king kermite close at hand, argues that the king has to deposit sperm with the queen on a periodic basis.
During the first two or three years the king termite may help a little with maintaining the nest, but before long there are plenty of workers to take over the housekeeping and caretaking responsibilities. By this stage of development, the workers even bring home the food for the queen and king to live on. All the male has to do is see that the eggs that female is laying are fertilized. No other function appears to have been observed. Other manly tasks such as getting food and cleaning the nest is done by the workers. The defense of the nest is the job of the soldiers.
The Ongoing Role of Termite King
Since the king termites appear to do so little, entomologists have not studied them very intensely. They have studied queens, workers, and soldiers with much more zeal. However, it appears that no matter how old the queen gets and how many eggs she has laid in the past, there needs to be a king around handy to fertilize the next additions to the huge family numbering thousands, if not multiple millions. Wherever investigators find a queen, they will find a king abiding close at hand.