Wednesday, 26 August, 2015
There are several thousand sub species of termites. As one of the most successful species of insect on the planet, one that has been around for several hundred million years, it is hardly surprising that there is such a widespread variation. And there is a lot of variation amongst termites. Not all of them eat dead trees, many eat smaller plants. Some like really rotten wood, others like very dry old wood. One area of variation amongst these termites is their nest. For most people the first ‘nest’ they think of when they think of termites is the giant mounds. Naturally your mind goes there as they have to be one of the more dramatic and memorable nests built by any creature, let alone a tiny little white insect. But not all termites live in those giant mounds, there are actually a number of different nest types that can be grouped into three main categories: subterranean, arboreal, and one-piece nests.
The subterranean nest is very common because termites are highly sensitive to both humidity and temperature and it is easier to control both when living below ground. Subterranean termites are generally also the most destructive when it comes to our homes as well, both because they love that type of wood and because their colonies are the most numerous (up to several million individuals). The subterranean nests can have mud tunnels (built to ensure the termite does not get too cold or dry) that can run for up to a hundred metres. They also have a royal chamber, where the queen lays the several thousand eggs a day, near the centre. These underground nests are sealed off from predators using mud walls and are so watertight and airtight that the termites must somehow expel all the bad gases they generate. This is where the mound comes into play, though not all subterranean termites use a mound. To solve the gas problem some termites build giant mounds above their nest to help with air flow, others create a special gas sink below the nest where all the carbon dioxide goes.
Arboreal nests are generally an extension of a below ground nest. These are connected by the tubes the termites build to move around in and run from a subterranean nest. Think of them as base camps near the food source so they do not have to move so much. The nest and the tubes that lead to and from it are made from a combination of dirt and fecal matter. The fecal matter actually has an amazing antibiotic property that prevents them from getting sick. At their biggest these arboreal nests can end up covering the entire tree.
The final category are the one-piece nests. Colonies of this termites are confined entirely within the wood that they are eating and can survive years without leaving, even for water. The colony creates a hollow chamber in the wood and then seals it from within with mud to form a waterproof barrier that keeps the moisture in. This method of living is very beneficial during periods of extremely dry weather. It also plays an important role in dispersal of species using logs to transport across oceans and down rivers.
Posted in termites