Friday, 21 August, 2015
The termite. A tiny insect that can pack a punch. On its own a termite is insignificant but when they act in concert they are a mighty force. Several million termites infesting a building can do significant damage over time, turning what was an asset into a financial liability. How does such a small creature manage to do what they do? In this article we will explain some of the key features of the termite that enable them to be the destructive force they are.
Power in numbers: Well obviously the first key feature of the termite that enables it to be so damaging is its power in numbers. Few insects actually act in groups of several million, with only ants, termites, locusts and a few others ever amassing those kind of numbers. The termite’s ability to work in unison in those huge groupings is a well honed evolutionary design. Termites, along with bees and ants, are what is called a eusocial insect. They sacrifice their personal liberty for the good of the collective, with individual termites more akin to the individual cells in a human body than to a human. Each termite will die for the group and almost all of them are sterile, working to bring up the king and queen’s offspring. This enables them to do mighty feats that other insects their size cannot, like build five metre high mounds and eat multi million dollar buildings.
Swarm logic: Closely related to the above is the termite’s ability to coordinate. They use something called ‘swarm logic’ to control their actions. This swarm logic is a set of basic rules and principles that each termite knows that enable them to do incredibly complicated things like build enormous mounds and scout around for wood. They use an array of pheromones to communicate with each other to ensure that they are all following the same instructions.
Total protection: Each termite is actually a very weak creature. They are extremely sensitive to heat and humidity changes, and they are susceptible to pandemics as they live in large numbers. However, they have developed very sophisticated building systems that enable them to not only spend their entire time in hermitically sealed and environmentally conditioned spaces but they also build their nests using anti-biotic materials that enable them to avoid disease.
Eat the tough stuff: Clearly another incredible feature of termites is their ability to eat wood. No animal on the planet is actually able to digest wood on their own, even termites need help. But of all the animals on the planet the termite is the best wood eater around. That is because they have an incredibly complex array of microorganisms living in their stomachs that help them break down the tough cellulose. They have a whole host of these tiny creatures who all play a part in a long and complicated process that enables them to break these tough plant cells down. This evolutionary adaption has enabled the termite to be one of the most successful species on the planet.
Posted in termites