There are over 2500 known species of termites in the world and the main way to distinguish one species from another is by the appearance of the soldiers. Kings might look similar to other kings; queens might look similar to other queens; and workers might resemble other workers; but soldiers show differences. They have different shaped mandibles. They have different shaped and sized heads. These and other characteristics vary from one kind of termite soldier to those of another species.
If a human goes poking around a termite colony the very first termites to be encountered are the defensive soldiers. They resist every invasion and try to fight off every intruder, including you and the scientists that study termites. Because of this behavior it is relatively easy to get samples of soldier termites from one nest and compare them with the soldiers from another nest.
The workers feed the soldiers, so they don’t have to gather food. They just have to be in the right place when a stray ant or some other kind of predator shows up. With their strong armor, termite soldiers are well adapted to inflicting death and injury on such predators while defending the termite colony.
The soldier population will vary from species to species. For example, dampwood termites in the Pacific Coastal part of the United States will have a large percentage of the population as soldiers. These termites, when they hatch and get past the larvae stage, become tiny workers. After serving as workers for much of their lives as they grow in size, they become soldiers, relatively large soldiers to protect the queen, the king, and the brood of growing termites.
In some species there will be a possibility of any worker becoming a reproductive male or female. However, it is often the case that once a growing termite becomes a soldier, it cannot transmute to become a queen or king. Such soldiers remain as soldiers.
Getting back to species identification, some textbooks on termites have page after page of termite pictures showing the differences in the shape and size of the heads and weapons of the soldier termites. There is no doubt that if you look closely at these tiny creatures, you can see great variation in the kinds and shapes of the mandibles and the muscular heads of these soldiers from one species of termite to another. Excessive enlargement would make soldier termites great monsters for a horror movie.
Soldier termites are wingless, blind, and otherwise soft-bodied. They can be identified by their yellowish-brownish heads and large black mandibles. The mandibles are a soldier termites primary offensive weapon and are well adapted for fighting. For their small size, they are extremely powerful. There is one downside: because of their defensive mandibles, termite soldiers are not capable of feeding themselves, so worker termites provide them with food.
Termite soldiers are responsible for colony defense. The termites greatest enemy are ants.
With most subterranean termites, termite soldiers typically make up 1–2% of the population of a termite colony. In comparison, the aggressive Formosan subterranean termite soldiers comprise 10–15% of the population in a Formosan termite colony.
Like termite swarmers, soldier termites only exist in mature termite colonies. So their presence is a significant sign of an extablished colony that is most likey a couple years old.