Monday, 31 August, 2015
The human race is a violent one, we are almost always fighting. The history of the world is one of conflict. If you look around the globe at any one time there will be some kind of conflagration or conflict, a war or revolution. As they say, our history is written in blood. But we are not the only violent species in the world, we are not the only one that must fight to maintain our position. In fact, some species have spent so long fighting that they have evolved a special caste of warriors whose sole purpose is to protect the species. Amongst these species are the termites, whose soldier caste has to be one of the most fascinating in the world.
Virtually every one of the several thousand sub species of termites has a soldier caste, a breed of termite that is much bigger than the worker and has specialised fighting parts that enable them to defend the nest. Even the most boring of these soldiers is amazing, with huge jaws that are so big that they are not even able to feed themselves and are so fast that they are one of the fastest moving body parts of any animal on the planet! However, amongst the several thousand sub species there are some particularly awesome soldier caste termites.
The head gun soldier
The head gun soldier termites from the North American termite subfamily Nasutitermitinae. These fontanellar guns are used to fight off predators. Located on the front of the soldier termite’s head, the “gun” is a chemical reaction that is triggered when the termite contracts its mandibular muscles, which it can shoot over a few centimetres. The gland material is forced out through the front of the nose and although these soldiers are blind they have been shown to be incredibly accurate with these guns. The gun fires a sticky secretion that is glue-like and sticks to objects that it hits. This glues the legs of the attacking enemy (generally ants) to the ground. However, most of the time the soldiers’ strategy is to attack en masse and to cover the enemy in so much of the glue that they end up dying.
The head blocker
Another set of termite soldiers from the drywood family of termites uses their heads in an interesting manner. When ants attack they generally break a hole in the termite nest. To stop them getting through the soldiers in this family will use their huge heads to block the hole up. Their heads are plug shaped and have specially evolved to fit in the holes. They sacrifice themselves to protect the rest of the colony. They stay there until the workers are able to repair the hole, though generally they will have died at this point.
Posted in termites