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Termite Nests up Close

 One very notable thing about termites is their ability to construct massive structures. Relative to their size, plus the facts that they cannot see and do not think at all, it is quite difficult to imagine how they achieve this feat. All that experts can do today it to marvel at how efficient they are in the work that they do and be amazed by the innovations that they use in order to make their nests suitable to their needs.

Magnetic termite mounds have an amazing North - South orientation
In contrast to what most of us think about termites, they do not really prefer living in our houses. In fact, they would rather live in their nests underground or in some dead log, than live in a place where they are mostly affected by human activities. However, since termites do not think, their constant search for wood and water sometimes lead them into places where they should not be: houses, buildings, even cars and boats.

Nonetheless, this does not take away the fact that termites build their own nests and are not really after the comforts of a human house. Their impressive construction skills have enabled them to build nests of different sizes and shapes -- both of which are dependent of the number of termites that live in that nest, the age of the nest and the type of termites that live in it. In general, the different nests built by termites that are made from soil and fecal materials are: Mounds, Subterranean, and Arboreal.

Termite Mounds

Mounds are the most obvious of all the types of nests that termites construct. These are like little soil hills that are compact and sealed. Termites build mounds for many different reasons. For example, subterranean termites or those that build their nests underground (to be discussed after mounds) build mounds to serve as a temperature control apparatus, a storehouse for spare food or to provide ventilation for the entire nest underneath.

Sometimes, subterranean termites also use mounds as refuge whenever there is flood or when their underground nest is being attacked by other animals and insects. Moreover, in the case of other termite species, mounds can serve as the entire nest in itself where they conduct all their doings including the laying of eggs by their queen.

It is also good to note that termite mounds built in arid places (like in Australia) exhibit a common structural appearance. Regardless of its size and height, the termite mounds in these places have large and very durable rounded peak. According to experts, termites shape the peak of their mounds as such in order to regulate the heat that enters and leaves their nests. In the past, the early researchers who took interest in the way termites build their mounds first thought that the way all termite mounds point to the north has something to do with the magnetic pole of the Earth.

However, in the latter researches, it was found out that termites have actually figured out that this orientation can maintain the temperature inside their nests! While it is very difficult to imagine how mindless creatures are able to realize that a certain mound-orientation can keep their nests well-temperate, termites have actually done so. The orientation allows termites to take advantage of the heat energy released by the sun. As the sun rises, the eastern part of their nest (which they have designed to be broad) absorbs enough heat energy from the sun to recover whatever heat it has lost during the cold night.

The top portion of the mound is built to be in line with the sun's light rays, because the top of the mound and the sun rays are parallel, the mound will most likely absorb the least heat thus preventing the mound from overheating. As the sun rests in the west, the western portion of the mound (also built to be broad) absorbs just about the right amount of heat to counter the cold temperature of the upcoming night.

Subterranean Nests

From the word subterranean itself, it can be easily deduced that these nests are found underground. As mentioned earlier, many of the subterranean termites also build mounds; nonetheless, before they build mounds, they first build underground nests. A subterranean nest can grow so vastly that in decades it can cover acres of land.

Nonetheless, regardless of the size and vastness of the nest, a queen's chamber is always present at the center of the nest. The queen's nest hosts the queen and the kings of the nest, as well as the thousands of eggs that the queen lays in a daily basis. This chamber is kept moist by the workers. It is also the workers that feed the queen and the newly hatched termites until they have grown enough to take on their role in the colony.

Underground nests are thought to be the secured from most predators but tunneling animals like moles and other rodents are never out of the question. In order to protect the colony from these predators, again, the termites have developed a way to keep the walls of their nest impenetrable. By combining clay, soil, feces and saliva, the workers are able to make a waterproof pavement which they use to cover the walls of the tunnels. The result is a thick and hard wall that keeps all other animals out of the nest.

The genius of the termites does not stop there. Because the wall coverings have also made it difficult for carbon dioxide to find a way out of the tunnel (killing many termites in the process because of poisoning), the workers have also developed a ventilating system that tunnels carbon dioxide out of the nest while keeping the temperature of the colony constant.

Arboreal Nests

An arboreal nest does not exist in its own. In most cases, arboreal nests are mere extensions of a subterranean nest. From the ground, termites are able to climb up trees and other plants above ground by building "bridge-like" structures that serve as "shelter" for termites that work above ground. It is in the very nature of termites to not wander around unprotected. Termites do not like exposing themselves because so many animals feed on them. Thus, using the same material that they use to fortify their walls, they also make tunnels above ground which we humans call as arboreal nests.

Now, since termites cannot crawl up on very steep surfaces because they don't have sticky pads like spiders and flies, they use their excrement to make non-skid surface throughout the walls of their tunnels. In this way, they can construct inclined tunnels without a problem.

The pictures are not mine, but the content is written by me,
Michael Rozatoru :)
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