Termites have been around for millions of years. What do we know about them? Most people think that they are a pest and nothing else. That couldn’t be further from the truth: we should be thankful that termites exist. Let’s take a look at 10 interesting facts about these fascinating animals:
1.) Termites are ecologically beneficial
They can be pests to some homeowners, but the environment is better off because of what termites do. They are decomposers: they recycle decaying and dead trees into soil by breading down plant fibers. Forests need these insects. Termites improve and aerate the soil too.
2.) Respect your elders
Termites are much older than the human race. They descend from an ancestor that’s similar to the modern cockroach. Mantids, cockroaches, and termites all share this ancestor that lived over 300 million years ago. Termites hold the record for the oldest mutualism between two organisms known to man. Today, there are over 2,700 species of termites in the world. There are about 40 species in the United States.
3.) Termites digest wood with the help of microorganisms
Termites need help to digest tough cellulose, or plant fibers. They eat plants directly or fungus that grows on plant material. Their gut is full of microorganisms that break down the cellulose. Both organisms benefit from this relationship.
4.) The old raise the young
There are no deadbeat dads here. Termite kings won’t leave their offspring. They’re not like males bees; male bees die after mating. The termite king will stay with the queen after he’s fertilized her eggs. He helps to feed the young, too, by giving them predigested food.
5.) They eat each other’s feces
They do this because they are not born with those beneficial microorganisms inside them. They need them before they can begin to munch away on food.
6.) Most of them are blind
Termite soldiers and workers are usually blind because they don’t need to be able to see in order to perform their duties. They live in the dark, where their eyesight would be useless. The only termites with eyesight are reproductive termites, they need it in order fly and find their mates.
7.) They have a sophisticated communication system
If there’s a threat, termite soldiers will bang the walls of the galleries with their heads in order to warn the other termites.
8.) Chemical communication is important too
They use pheromones (chemical scents) to provide information to one another. They can guide other workers by leaving scent trails using the glands that they possess. Each colony has its own unique scent.
9.) Good hygiene is very important
Most people would be surprised at how much time termites spend grooming themselves and each other. They do it because it is important for their survival; if they didn’t put any effort into staying clean, they’d get in trouble with harmful bacteria and parasites.
10.) Some of them can fly
Queens and kings can fly. They are called alates, and use their wings to leave their colony, look for a potential mate and start their own colony. Once they’ve found a new home, they break off their wings and raise their offspring.