Termites are mostly known for their capacity to destroy houses, furniture, and other things made of wood, thus we call termite control companies to avoid them from ruining our beloved homes. But aside from this destructive ability that they possess, termites should also be noted for another thing – their architectural skills and ability to build wondrous termite mounds or hills.
These structures, made from tons of soil and water, show the collaborative forces of colonies of termites as social insects. Let’s look at them, shall we?
The Compasses or Magnetic Termite Hills
These termite hills are unlike other termite hills. These flat monoliths are made by magnetic termites. Since these termites prefer the warmth over anything else, they first build their mounds at the east – the direction in which the sun rises. Their mound absorbs the heat and once night falls, these termites go to the center of the mound since the remaining heat absorbed from the sun for the rest of the day can be felt there. In short, the termite hill’s structure is done to regulate the heat inside it.
African Macrotermes Termite Hill
These are the usual termite hills created by African macrotermes. These termite hills, made of clay glued together by the termites’ saliva, can reach up to 8 to 9 meters. Because of the combination of clay and the termites’ saliva, the structure has become more solid and hard as to avoid erosion when rain or any other external stimuli hit the hill. What made these termite hills notable is the pinnacle or chimney found at the exterior part of the structure. Inside these hills are honeycomb-like structures, which serve as the “garden” or “farm” of the termites since that is where they tend the fungi that they harvest as food.
Mutualism and Commensalism Observed in Termite Hills
Found in the wild around the world, these towering structures do not only serve as nature’s ornament, but they also serve as home to termite colonies and sanctuary to several insects and animals.
Termites treat some invertebrates as guests. Such invertebrates are beetles, flies, bugs, caterpillars, and millipedes. Just like the relationship between ants and aphids (but certainly not ants and termites), these insects are treated as guests because they are advantageous to the termites. These specific insects are taken as guests because they developed special glands that secrete fluids “licked off” by termites as part of their diet, while they remain protected inside the sturdy structures.
Other insects and animals, which are fairly bigger than them, also go to termite hills because they provide warmth, protection, and other things. Examples are meerkats in Africa using termite hills as look-out spots, jaguars and cheetahs treat smaller termite hills as resting spots, and scorpions, lizards, and birds occupying termite hills too. Since the termites are not affected by these actions, they don’t do harm to these animals. This is an example of a commensalistic relationship observed in such setting.
Termite hills are one proof of nature’s complexity, and how teamwork with the same goal can lead to a great output. While they are important in the wild, termites simply have no place in the homes of people. Remember to call termite control when you find them trying to build a home in yours!