What Animals Eat Termites, Animals

What Animals Eat Termites?

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Termites, little wood- and vegetable-eating insects, constitute an important food source to many creatures. More than 2,750 species of termites inhabit the globe, endemic to certain countries or otherwise. Only 10 percent of termite species are known as pests. They live in highest abundance within tropical rain forests, where natural termite colonies fall prey to a variety of birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects, spiders and mammals.

Termites Defined

Two different types of termites, subterranean and dry wood, appear as light yellow to black antlike insects. Soft termite bodies have equally wide segmented bodies with hairlike antennae, an undefined waists and, in some cases, wings. They live in organized colonies where division of labor consists of reproductive, soldier and worker termites. Baby termites or nymphs can develop into any of the three labor groups. Most termite colonies help the environment by converting plant cellulose into recycled eco-friendly substances and as food sources for a variety of animals.

Mammals and Marsupials

Many animals eat termites, including humans. Swarming termites often leave the nest in early evening, which permits opportunistic predatory behavior from animals within the vicinity. Genets and civets, members of the cat family, have been seen eating termites. Also, other smaller animals such as mongooses, bats and numbats eat termites. Underground creatures such as moles and shrews will eat termites if they happen upon them. Echinidnas, aardvarks and anteaters actively search for termites to eat, and primates have been seen using tools to extract termites. In certain areas of Africa, termites are a popular human food source.

Reptiles and Amphibians

Other animals that take advantage of termite swarms include lizards, frogs and snakes. In Kenya the giant monitor lizard, agamid lizards and skinks have been seen feasting on termites. Geckos, frill-necked lizards and legless lizards feed on termites in Australia. Some blind/worm snakes, such as the eastern blind snake, will live directly under termite-inhabited wood to grab termites and termite eggs as they get hungry. As termites fly in the air, any type of frog nearby will grab them as food.

Insects, Spiders and Nematodes

Ants are serious predators of termites. Six types of ants actively prey on termites. Since ants and termites have similar widespread colonies, it is inevitable that battles will arise. Other insects that eat termites include beetles, flies and wasps. Spiders catch and eat flying termites in their webs; assassin bugs break into termite mounds, stab them and inject them with toxin. Nematodes, unsegmented roundworms, invade termite bodies and kill them.

Birds

Hundreds of different birds make meals of termites. When termites swarm, speedy sparrows, swallows, swifts, starlings and weavers will fly to catch them as food. Doves, spotted eagle owls, coucals and chickens will pursue a termite meal on the ground. Even storks will take advantage of a termite swarm if stomachs are empty. Birds may not be able to invade termite mounds, but they can snatch up every one that crawls out.

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What Do Termites Eat?

Typical Feeding Habits of Termites

Cellulose Digestion

Termites eat cellulose material including the following:

In nature, this is helpful because the pests are able to break down decaying trees and dying plants. However, the digestion of cellulose is no easy task. Even large animals such as cows and goats have difficulty stomaching the substance. To get past that, those animals chew grass for long periods of time until the cellulose is more easily digested.

Bacteria

Termites are able to live off cellulose thanks to the organisms found in their stomachs. Bacteria and protozoa form a mutually beneficial relationship with the pests by producing a special enzyme that naturally breaks down cellulose. They digest the cellulose, and termites receive their nutrition in the form of sugar. Additionally, some termite species favor wood that’s already being broken down by fungi to make digestion easier.

Immature termites that don’t yet have the bacteria and protozoa in their stomachs, soldiers, and reproductives are fed by workers. Worker termites pass on the cellulose-turned-sugar substance via a mouth-to-mouth feeding process.

The pests become problematic for homeowners when they feed on wooden structures in buildings. As social insects, termites typically live in large colonies and target different types of wood depending on the species. In most circumstances, infestations of the pest can grow unnoticed until the serious structural damage is already done.

Diet of Drywood Termites

Drywood termites infest decks, fences, furniture and structural wooden members of homes that remain dry. The pests tend to nest aboveground and usually will not come into contact with the soil. Lumberyards and other areas that store and sell wood can unwittingly pass termite infestations onto homeowners. Drywood termite species also infest utility poles. These termite species typically enter the home directly through attic vents or by penetrating wooden shingles.

Diets of Dampwood & Subterranean Termite Species

By contrast, dampwood and subterranean termites infest wood that is already decaying or is in contact with a suitable source of moisture. Homeowners usually find mud tubes on exterior walls that lead from underground termite nests to their food source. Finding infestations of subterranean and dampwood termites can indicate a leak somewhere in the home. Dampwood and subterranean termites build large galleries in infested wood that may cause extensive damage.

How Do They Find Food?

The food-finding habits of subterranean termites seem to be based on where they think wood should be, not on knowing where it is exactly. (In most species, the worker termites do not have eyes and therefore, cannot «see» the location of wood.)

A termite colony’s strategy goes something like this:

  • Cellulose (wood and other similar material) is extremely abundant above ground and below ground — if you tunnel randomly and long enough in the soil, you are bound to find some.
  • Follow objects (like rocks and tree and shrub roots), cracks or gaps in the soil — this will likely help you locate a food source.
  • Follow increasing amounts of soil moisture — this is best for survival (termites need moist conditions) and more likely to lead to organic matter.
  • Follow the scent of fungi associated with food — many of these microorganisms attack and break down wood. You can often find more termites where there is fungi.
  • Finally, the colony sends out a large number of workers in search of food — the more you send, the better chances you have to get a hit.
  • As soon as someone gets a hit, they return to get help, but they leave a chemical trail behind so the new recruits can find their way to the food.

When one of the wandering workers locates food, the sharing and cooperation behavior kicks in. The individual worker or a small group of workers will be at the food for a short time, but then return to the nest or go out and recruit other workers to the food. Sharing food is key to colony survival. Because workers feed and groom each other, the energy put into foraging by individuals pays off for everyone.

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What Role Do Termites Play In A Savanna Biome?

Termites play a vital role in a savanna biome.

Large termite mound in the African savanna.

Termites are some of the most populous animals on earth and usually exceed mammals in biomass in most ecosystems. While the insects inhabit all of the earth’s continents except Antarctica, termites are found in huge numbers in the savanna where weather conditions are ideal for the establishment of their colonies. The effects termites have on the environment are arguably most profound in the savanna biome. Some flowering plants rely on termites for pollination. An example is the Rhizanthella gardneri, which is possibly the only flower whose pollination is only done by termites. Termites are one of the few animals which can break down cellulose from dead wood. Therefore, these insects play an integral role in the reintroduction of nutrients from the dead plants into the soil. Many termite species live in underground burrows which are great in aerating the soils.

Termite Mounds Offer Shelter To Many Organisms

Many termite species live in subterranean colonies while others build the nest which is perched on trees. Other species such as those of the Macrotermes genus build towering earth structures known as mounds where the colony resides. These earth structures vary in size with some exceptionally large mounds being over a dozen feet in height. One mound found in the Democratic Republic of Congo stands 42 feet in height making it the tallest mound on record. Many species of ants inhabit termite mounds and nests for protection against adverse weather conditions and predators. Some ant species even co-exist with resident termites in inhabited mounds, but most species prefer abandoned mounds. These nests and mounds also offer shelter to other organisms such as scorpions, lizards, snakes, millipedes, and beetles.

Termites Act As A Source Of Food

Termites are a popular food item for a range of different animal species. The savanna is home to specialist termite feeders such as the aardvark which consumes huge numbers of termites in one sitting. This insectivorous animal uses its long sticky tongue to penetrate inside termite mounds and fish out the termites. Termites are also fed on by other savanna vertebrates including frogs, lizards, bats, and many bird species. Some ant species subsist purely on termites including all species in the Megaponera genus. These ants raid termite colonies and carry dead termites back to their homes. Other ant species inhabit termite mounds where they frequently make predator attacks on the resident termites. Other insects which prey on termites include wasps, crickets, and cockroaches.

Tribal People Also Consume Termites

Termites are a popular food item for many tribes who reside in the savanna. The insects are an important protein source and can be eaten raw or when cooked. The alates are particularly popular in many Sub-Saharan Africa countries and are collected in their thousands for consumption. Research has established that termites are packed with proteins and fats which aid in improving the diets of people in malnutrition-prone areas. Termites are also believed to have medicinal benefits by savanna inhabitants. Some tribes believe the insects can heal a variety of health ailments including sinusitis, asthma, whooping cough, influenza, and treating wounds. Such claims are yet to be supported by scientific research.

About the Author

Benjamin Elisha Sawe holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Statistics and an MBA in Strategic Management. He is a frequent World Atlas contributor.

www.worldatlas.com

Sabi Sabi Wild Facts: Termites

For a lot of people around the world the word termite strikes fear. Termites have the negative and well-earned reputation of eating houses. But out here in their natural environment they are a keystone species – and by keystone I mean that the entire environment relies on termites to survive.

Termites are the oldest known organised community on the planet – they have been traced back 300 million years. These tiny little creatures are no longer viewed by scientists as millions of individuals making up a colony but instead are seen as a super organism. They work together to form one of the most spectacular communities on the planet.

Termites can be split into 2 distinct groups, those that eat wood, the macrotermes, and those that eat grass, the microtermes. For this Wild Fact I am going to concentrate on the macrotermes as they are found all over Sabi Sabi and are responsible for the massive mounds all over the reserve.

Members of a macrotermes termite community are split into a number of roles such as workers, soldiers and a king and queen. Each termite has its job which is carried out 24/7. The workers collect wood and tend to gardens, the soldiers are constantly on guard waiting for any danger so that they can protect the colony, and the king and queen have the job of fertilising and laying eggs respectively.

Do wood eating termites actually eat wood? Partly…the workers gather wood by chewing it and swallowing it, but due to the hard lignin in the wood they cannot digest it. So they return to the mound and take their faecal pellets and join them into a ball which resembles a brain (with many grooves). They then take fungal spores of a fungus called termitomyces, which only grows in termite mounds, and plant it in the chewed up wood. The fungus then digests the wood and the termites eat the fungus.

In order for the fungus to grow it needs constant humidity and a temperature of around 30 degrees Celsius. The termites maintain the temperature by opening and closing chimneys in the mound, using their metabolic heat during cold times and having porous walls to allow the wind to clear out excess heat. Humidity is maintained by tunnelling down to the water table in order to release water vapour into the colony. The deepest tunnel found was 30 metres deep and the tallest mound was a staggering 14 metres high.

One of the many things we still have to figure out is how termites communicate. On days when emergences take place, all colonies within the vicinity somehow have set a time when they will let their flying reproductives out of the mound. For example on the 20th November at 16h00 all the same species emerge from their respective colonies making sure that they mate with a male/female from another colony to ensure that genetic diversity continues. We don’t even fully understand how communication takes place within a colony let alone between colonies.

These fascinating colonies will live for around 80 to 100 years before dying out. The mounds are then used by birds for nesting, snakes for hibernating, wild dogs and hyenas den in old mounds, warthogs sleep in them at night and nocturnal creatures like porcupines and honey badgers will use them during the day. Even while colonies are active they still have a multitude of uses as termites are eaten by many different animals, monitor lizards lay their eggs inside the mounds as the temperatures are perfect for incubation and the mounds are responsible for the germination of many seeds of trees! What an EPIC little creature the termite!

1. Insects, including termites, are the most successful group of living creatures in the world today. Termites are the only insect order in which all species are highly social. They have been on Earth for over 50 million years, and although they are sometimes called “white ants”, they are not ants, nor are they closely related to them..

2. In a termite colony there is a caste family structure: the workers – blind, sexless nymphs: the soldiers – with large heads and long jaws: and the reproductives including the queen.

3. The termite queen is the largest of all individual social insects. She produces one egg approximately every 3 seconds.

4. Just before the rainy season, some of the worker termites complete their development and become winged adults. These leave the nest in swarms and eventually land on the ground, shed their wings and mate, and create new colonies.

5. Termites are probably the most efficient creatures contributing to decomposition in the bushveld. They are also an important food source in Africa.

6. The termite species Macrotermes are the builders of nearly all the large termite mounds in Africa. There are many wonderful examples of these termitaria at Sabi Sabi. Macrotermes termites are fungus-growers, bringing plant material back to the colony, chewing it to a pulp and using it to cultivate the fungus on which they feed.

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Termites in Grass

Termites look a little like ants, but they have no middle body segment between the head and the abdomen. If you see termites in the grass, don’t panic. These termites may not damage your home at all, because they probably belong to a termite species that doesn’t feed on wood.

Features

Only certain termite species, such as the subterranean termites, eat wood and destroy building structures. The termites in the grass probably belong to a grass-eating species, known as agriculture and desert termites. These termites live above the ground and up to 4 feet below the ground. They have white bodies, brown heads and no wings. One colony of agriculture or desert termites may have a population that numbers in the thousands.

Habitats

Agricultural and desert termites live in arid, dry areas, such as savannahs and prairies. They live in various parts of the world, including Northern Australia and West Texas. You may find agricultural and desert termites in fields and pastures of rural areas eating various soft plant materials, such as grasses, weeds and forbs. During drought, these termites move closer to humans and start living in lawns, where they have easy access to grass.

Damage

Although the damage is minimal compared to subterranean termites, agricultural and desert termites may also cause problems. They usually wreak havoc when conditions are dry, forcing them to move above the ground and may damage your lawn by feeding on the grasses and by building ugly tubes of mud on the ground. These tubes may encase various objects, such as blades of grass, fence posts and litter. Agricultural and desert termites don’t harm humans, animals or building structures.

Control

If you can’t determine the type of termites you have, either pay a visit to your local extension office with a specimen or contact a professional exterminator. To get rid of agricultural and desert termites, destroy their mud structures with a rake or a heavy chain, then apply a pesticide to kill them. In urban areas, pesticides developed for use against termites work well to eradicate agricultural or desert termites. If you live in a rural location, Texas A&M University recommends that you use a pesticide that contains malathion.

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African Termites

admin — December 10, 2018

To discuss our Namibian Termites and African Termites in general, one first needs to understand that Termites can be roughly grouped into those species that nest within their food (those nasty ones who help you destroy and break-down any wooden structure), usually wood, and those that nest elsewhere and must leave their nest in order to forage for food. Of the latter type, nests may be arboreal or subterranean, centrally located or dispersed into small, connected units. Most termites shun the open air and travel to and from the foraging area by way of subterranean tunnels or covered galleries. Many species also cover the foraged material with sheet galleries before dining (Intro photo: Hypopharynx Pseudergates by Webstagram)

In the central Namib desert, the subterranean termite Psammotermes allocerus Silvestri (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae) builds its nest structures nearly 30 em deep into the dry sand of the Kuiseb river. Gallery systems protect the insects against unfavourable climatic conditions and reduce body-water loss occurring in all humidities below 98% Rh. Furthermore, the social structure of a termite colony contributes essentially to a reduction of individual water loss in subsaturated atmospheres as well as to a more efficient water uptake. Water vapour uptake from the atmosphere is not possible and free liquid water cannot be used as a water resource because of the strong surface tension of the water droplets. However, with the aid of their hypopharynx pseudergates of Psammotermes allocerus are able to extract water from the capillary system of loamy sand. The role of “water-sacs” in connection with water uptake and storage is still unknown.

The Photo above: Psammotermes allocerus (by unknown)

Many termites do not build mounds that show above ground, but construct entirely subterranean nests, with tunnels to the surface. The best known of these is the African harvester termite, Hodotermes mossambicus, largely thanks to occasional subterranean encounters during the digging of trenches for construction (Coaton and Sheasby 1975; Hartwig 1963, 1965). Large passages connect these subterranean nest to each other, and smaller ones give the termites access to the surface where they dump excavated soil and forage for grass. Foraged grass is first placed into small, superficial chambers for later transport to the nests and consumption. None of the reports on subterranean gallery systems describes architectural details of the tunnels themselves, or how they are constructed.

Termite mounds comprise a significant part of the landscape in northwestern Namibia. The vegetation type in this area is mopane vegetation, a vegetation type unique to southern Africa. As a first timer visiting Namibia one should notice the fact that, almost all termite mounds coexisted with trees, of which 80% are Mopane trees (Colophospermum mopane). Also, according to multiple biological studies, it was determined that the rate at which trees withered was higher on the termite mounds than outside them, and few saplings, seedlings, or grasses grew on the mounds, indicating that termite mounds could cause trees to wither and suppress the growth of plants. However, even though termite mounds appeared to have a negative impact on vegetation, they could actually have positive effects on the growth of mopane vegetation. Moreover, local people use the soil of termite mounds as construction material, and this utilization may have an effect on vegetation change if they are removing the mounds that are inhospitable for the growth of plants. Consequently, both termite mounds and human activities should be taken into account as factors affecting mopane vegetation as a whole.

The Photo above: Mopane Tree (by Etosha National Park)

As we mentioned above, the savannas of Namibia are dotted with the spectacular mounds of the fungus-growing termites of the genus Macrotermes (Termitidae: Macrotermitinae). These mounds can reach several meters high and represent a colossal engineering project for the termites that build them. These little insects are working and building like there is no tomorrow. According to modern research, the mound is a respiratory device, built to capture wind energy to ventilate the subterranean nest. The need for ventilation is of the highest importance. A typical Macrotermes nest contains roughly a million workers and a substantially larger biomass of the fungi they cultivate. Collectively, these organisms consume oxygen at rates similar to that of large mammals.

By various estimates, a single Macrotermes colony is the metabolic equivalent of a goat or a cow. Macrotermes mounds are also external organs of homeostasis. The composition of the nest atmosphere is tightly regulated. Typically, oxygen concentrations in the nest are 2% lower than the surrounding air, carbon dioxide concentrations are commensurably higher, and nest humidities are very high. These conditions are maintained throughout the year and in the face of considerable variation of metabolic demand from the colony. Such stability can only come about if the termites can match ventilation rate with the colony’s respiration rate.

They do this by making the mound a “smart” structure, which means that it must also be a dynamic structure. The soil is continually eroded from the mound and is replaced by soil carried by termites out to the mound surface. Roughly a cubic meter of soil moves through the mound each year in this way. The mound’s architecture is therefore shaped by the relative rates and patterns of erosion from, and deposition to, the mound. For the mound to be an organ of homeostasis, these patterns of active soil movement must be coupled to the composition of the nest’s atmosphere. For example, excessive ventilation rates would produce patterns of soil transport that reduce the mound’s capture of wind energy. Insufficient ventilation would elicit soil transport patterns that enhance the capture of wind energy.

Photos above: Southern Africa Termite mounds (by unknown)

The termites are attracted by light from a lantern lamp causing them to fall in large swarms and are collected and put in a clean container . Van Huis ( 2003 ) reviewed various methods of termite collection around Africa. The most popular and easy way used in the tropics is to collect them during the evening hours, by placing a basin of water right under the light source. As light is reflected on the water, termites are attracted and trapped on the water surface.

In Benin, winged termites ( Macrotermes falciger ) are collected after the rain in a large pan containing water placed under an electric light. In the absence of grid-enabled light, lanterns are placed in large empty pans to trap the winged termites.

www.namibia-adventures.com

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