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Basic Information on Termites

While there are many termite species already known to mankind these days, only a few have proven to be economically significant. Most of these species are classified as subterranean or those that start nesting in the ground rather than in wood. These species are: Schedorhinotermes sp., Coptotermes sp., and Mastotermes sp. These three species cause majority of the problems related to termites while another three species are responsible for a few low level damages. They are: Heterotermis sp., Microcrotermes sp. and Nasutitermes sp.

Nature and Appearance

Because a termite's body comprise of three segmented body parts and because these pests have three pairs of legs, they have been classified as insects. Quite peculiarly, the separation between the thorax and the abdomen of termites are not easily visible. This is the reason under the naked eye; the termite's body seems to have two major parts only, the head and the abdomen/thorax. Termites also have a pair of antennae. The antennae are straight and are not readily visible without close observation.

Examining more closely, one can see that termites do not have eyes, or at least visible ones. Termites are considered to be technically blind and only rely on their antennae for mobility. However, it was also observed by some experts who have conducted in-depth anatomical studies on termites, termites have been found to respond to light or the heat that is brought by the same light. It was then theorized that termites may have "eyes" that can only process light gradient.

Unlike some ants, cockroaches and beetles, termites do not have exoskeletons or a hardened outer shell (similar to crabs and shrimps). In the contrary, termites have very soft and very translucent coverings. Because of this physical condition, termites lose moisture fast, explaining their need for constant water supply. In fact, termites need water more than they need wood. But of course, they would die with the lack of the latter.

All termites exhibit the same physical appearance, with only the specie called Alate Termite Caste as the exception. This termite specie are unique because of all the termite species named by experts, this specie is the only one having wings.

Endless search for Water and Wood

To understand termite foraging behavior, it is important that one should realize first that termites are technically blind and that they cannot smell or sense anything that is not within the boundaries of their tunnels. Having known that, it can be deduced then that they method performed by termites to find their way to houses and buildings is definitely random. Nonetheless, no matter how random it is, there are certain things that definitely lead termites into such places. For example, termites will be most attracted to follow leaking pipes, tree roots and other natural or artificial material that would probably lead them to wood or to water.

Termites make tunnels underground just like how human miners dig tunnels in search for gems and metals. Termites will eat their way into the ground or any other obstruction until they find wood or water. Until they have found what they are looking for, they will not cease "digging" regardless of the weather condition or the kind of material that they have to eat up. They can eat their way through almost anything: carpet, cable sheath, plasterboard, etc. It is good to note that termites cannot eat concrete, they can make cracks in concrete widen though through constant contact (physical erosion due to friction) or through the sweat that they produce which is highly acidic.

In short, termites strive where water and wood are present. Even in very harsh weather conditions, termites may continue to thrive because of the presence of artificial water sources, especially in suburban areas. Such artificial sources include: leaking pipes, water condensing from an air-conditioned and the like.

Wood Digestion

Termites are actually in search for cellulose or a long chain or polymer that is comprised of sugar molecules. They eat wood and other plant materials to get cellulose. However, termites cannot digest cellulose all by themselves. They have to rely on certain bacteria and protozoa in order to digest their food. Without these, termites will not be able to nourish their bodies and would reduce to extinction. The presence of these organisms in their bodies is what makes termites unique amongst all other insects. It is interesting to add too that the digestive system of termites is close to that of a cow.

The relationship of the termites and the micro-organisms that live inside them can be classified as symbiotic. These micro-organisms feed on cellulose and they will have no way of finding cellulose if they will not stick with the termites. On the same way, termites will not be able to digest cellulose without the help of these micro-organisms. It is safe to say then that neither organism can survive without the help of the other.

Termite Nests

Most people are familiar with termite mounds as termite nests. Nevertheless, not all termites live in mounds. In fact, some termites simply live underground without any hint of their existence above ground. Some termites also live in trees, either dead or alive; some termites build small termite mounds on trees while maintaining connection to the ground through soil tunnels that climb from the ground to the height where the termite mound is attached.

It is important to note too that the most destructive types of termites do not build termite mounds. Instead, the more economically significant termites prefer to keep their existence a secret until comes the time when they have done maximum damage. Nonetheless, in all cases, termites build their nest using the droppings of the termite workers. Like ants, termites are also stratified through a caste system. Droppings of termites belonging to other castes are eaten by the termite workers and then they gather in a specific area where they drop their faeces. These areas include places in the colony where nest enlargement is necessary, where a shelter tube has to be built or where mud tunnels are to be constructed. These faeces serve as the building blocks of the construction. The way termites build their nests and the structures inside has always marvelled both experts and hobbyists up until today.

Written by Michael Rozatoru :)
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