The subterranean termites in the genus Reticulitermes have a complex and plastic life cycle, which has been the subject of a number of publications over the past century. Given the inherent difficulties in studying such cryptic, eusocial organisms it is not perhaps surprising that the literature on their biology has failed to reach a consensus. An overview of the literature is given, which is followed by a discussion of the various theories on the life cycle of Reticulitermes spp. A substantial proportion of the review focuses on the French literature, which constitutes the majority of the primary sources and can be difficult to access. There are many discrepancies in the literature in terms of the number of instars, the definition of workers and the question of whether they should be termed pseudergates or, potentially, an additional terminology used to differentiate between pseudergates and the true workers seen in the higher termites (Isoptera: Termitidae). It remains very difficult to compare publications as there is little conformity; a problem that is aggravated by a general absence of drawings of the relevant instars. Further work on the biology of Reticulitermes is clearly required. There is also a need for researchers to agree on a standard terminology for this genus. A glossary is provided for the various synonyms and definitions.