In the process of carrying out termite control, you eventually get to learn a lot about the insects you have made it your life’s calling to exterminate. Just because we are often forced to kill termites in order to protect our own homes does not mean we cannot appreciate some of the more interesting aspects of the insects. It would only be fitting, since termite control focuses so much on protecting human living spaces from the insects, that we also take a look at how termites do the same thing from their own “pests”. Here are some interesting facts about termites and the places where they live as well as how they protect them.
1. Some termite species cultivate gardens in their nests. They farm fungi by eating species of a fungus whose spores are not harmed by the passage through the termites’ intestines, then expel those spores as part of their faeces, cultivating it until it grows into a fungus again and becomes another source of food. Plant matter is also added to the heap as a means of encouraging fungus growth.
2. Termites do not only nest underground, aboveground or in the wooden beams of a house. There are also arboreal termite nests that may be found dangling high up, built around the branch of a tree or a trunk.
3. Some of the largest termitaria (that is, termite mounds) are in Africa, with heights of about 9 metres or so. The average height for a mound, however, is about two metres. This is still quite sizeable no matter which way you look at it, because even just an average-sized termitaria would be the height of a 6-foot man. Termitaria, by the way, are often called by the misnomer “ant hills” in many countries. Termites and ants are actually not very closely related and may in fact often run afoul of each other, as ants often try to make incursions on the termites’ nests.
4. A lot of termitaria have been found by scientists to have been constructed under principles of thermoregulation. Termites sometimes build their mounds to face a particular direction, for instance, so as to ensure that one face of the mound gets enough sun.
5. Termite soldiers are charged with protecting the colony and its nest, and various termite species employ fascinating methods of defence against predators. A typical foe of termites and would-be invader of termite nests would be the ant. Ants often attempt to get inside termitaria to prey on the termites and termite soldiers often repel them by guarding the entryways—that is, the passages to the nest. Since most termite soldiers are characterised by severely enlarged heads and jaws, this assists them in discharging their duty of protecting the passages, which are often only large enough to accommodate the soldiers’ enormous heads. A particularly gruesome (and interesting) defence mechanism is used by the soldiers of the Globitermes sulphureus, which break a gland under their cuticle in a suicidal gesture that also stops intruders due to the gland’s gluey contents. It is fortunate that these insects are small, or else termite control professionals might have their work cut out for them with these tiny suicide bombers.