11 July 2018
10 amazing termite facts

By Luke Street

Large parts of the Timbavati are covered by what a lot of people refer to as ant hills. In fact, these enormous mounds are incredible works of engineering mastery, not from ants, but from termites. Here are some incredible facts about these highly important and interesting little creatures.

  1. Termites are extremely numerous across the African continent, so numerous in fact that their total biomass is larger than that of all the large herbivores put together. 
  2. Any creature that occurs in these massive numbers is bound to play a hugely important role within an ecosystem. The daily movements of all the individuals found within a colony is believed to contribute greatly to the aeration and water infiltration of the surrounding soil. Hence they produce an environment which is much more conducive for trees and plants to grow in.
  3. Plants and termites play an equally important role within the functioning of a termite colony. Termites rely on plants for sustenance that comes in the form of dead and decaying plant matter. Although what is interesting is that the termites are not eating this material, but harvesting it for later use.
  4. Termites will repeatedly return to their mound, deposit their plant findings and move on to find more. These deposits will be tended to and carefully looked after until small white dots appear, this is a special form of fungus.
  5. The fungus and termites have what is known as an obligatory mutualistic relationship. This means one cannot occur without the other.
  6. Growing fungus requires very specific conditions. Termites, through the use of their spire mounds, have created a habitat that is impressively capable of maintaining 32°C. Different parts of the spire mounds are opened and closed at different times in order to achieve this highly effective air conditioning system.
  7. Agriculture of this level requires amazing engineering and a massive workforce. The queen of the colony will lay over 30 000 eggs per day in order to produce the population requirements.
  8. 30 000 eggs per day… that’s a lot of eggs! In fact, so many eggs that this is a full-time job. The king and queen, once mated, will live out the entirety of their lives within the royal chamber found deep within the mound.
  9. Some of these matriarchs are believed to live up to 30 years of age and grow to the size of a man's thumb! Once a queen has reached the end of her life, a new queen will be prepared to take over.
  10. You can come across some truly massive mounds up to three meters tall. These would have been created over many decades.

 

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