Thursday, 16 January 2014

Termites: Minor Creatures of Mass Destruction

Since humans first became civilized and started buildings to house themselves in, there has always been one creature that has always served as a huge nuisance to humans despite its relatively small size: the termite. Indeed, one can only imagine the promises God had to make Noah in order for the latter to take the little creatures unto his ark along with all the other creatures he was tasked with saving. Whatever the case, it seems that we continue to be pestered by termites well into the present day as they chew their way through our homes and our appliances. More often than not, we need to call on the help of professional exterminators to get rid of them and sometimes even saturating the entire lot and building might not even be enough. One survivor, under the right (or more likely wrong) conditions, can restart the cycle, resulting in a huge headache for whoever owns the building.

Defining the Termite

The termite is an insect, a member of the phylum Anthropoda which goes on to include arachnids (spiders and scorpions), chilopods (centipedes), diplopods (milipedes) and crustaceans (crabs, shrimps and lobsters. Being insects, termites are different from the arthropods mentioned above as they have no more than six legs and some of them possess wings. Termites are well known for their eusocial nature that makes them very similar to bees, ants, and wasps as they are divided into castes including a queen, soldiers, workers, and even a king. However, they are also different from said eusocial insects in that they are believed by scientists to be more closely related to cockroaches and mantises rather than bees or ants.

Termites and Humans

Let’s face it. Just about every homeowner is afraid of his or her house somehow being infiltrated by termites. Not that they can be blamed anyway as given sufficient time, termites can quite literally eat a house away to its barest essentials, leaving the wood that used to compose a house just rotted husks that will fall apart the moment someone sneezes and makes any loud noises. People have taken many precautions to prevent them from infiltrating their homes and have resorted to a lot of dire solutions just to get rid of them. Nonetheless, they continue to be pests for modern Homo sapiens in many places and even with modern technology on their side, it seems that termites continue to be a huge problem for a lot of people despite, or almost in spite of being so small.

Termite Tenacity and Cooperation

Termites may be small. But they more than make up for this by being tenacious and surprisingly intelligent. Like other eusocial insects (insects with a caste system like bees or ants) termites possess what is called “collective intelligence.” This means that, unlike humans, termites become more intelligent when there are more of them together, allowing them to surmount challenges that would baffle even some humans were they faced with similar problems. Remember, these are otherwise dumb insects but their combined intelligence is more than enough to challenge even the minds of college-graduated humans.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Termite Society: Knowing Who’s Who

Since humankind first began to build shelters of their own, one creature has served to plague humans unlike any other: the termite. Small as ants, eusocial ants, as voracious as locusts and every bit as destructive as a swarm of rats, termites have destroyed many a home since wooden homes first came into popularity. Unfortunately, despite having advanced well beyond what our primitive ancestors could build, there are still a lot of people who find themselves troubled by the little pests. Indeed, their endurance, their numbers and their ability to degrade wood easily make termites some of the most hated pests despite their relatively small size, blindness and being weaker than other insects like ants and cockroaches.

The Termite Caste System

Termites are “eusocial” creatures, meaning they have a society similar to that of ants, bees, and wasps. Unlike equally voracious and hated locusts, termites actually have a social organization that makes sure that everybody in the hive gets some kind of benefit. That’s right, termites can be compared to a country with its own government (not to mention soldiers) or an evil corporation. And all this despite being usually less than inch in length.

Anyway, here are the members of a typical termite hive:

Workers

Workers are probably the most numerous members of a termite hive. They number in the billions and their sole purpose of existence is maintaining the hive and make sure that everyone gets to eat. They’re usually relegated to building the hive and making sure it stays together. If you notice those lines of dirt (actually it also includes termite poop as building material) that run up trees or your wall, note that this is how worker termites attempt to create a kind of safety tunnel for them to travel in; as they are perhaps the weakest members of the hive and are quite vulnerable to a lot of things. Also, take note that they’re usually blind as they can usually be found in the deeper parts of a hive where having eyes would otherwise be useless.

Soldiers

Left, left, left, right, right, right, go the six legs of the soldier termites as they go about protecting their hives from enemies like ants, wasps, other predators, and homeowners. Built for combat, soldier termites often have huge heads that can block up the hive tunnels preventing potential enemies from traveling further into the hive without confronting the soldiery of the hive. With their already large heads, soldier termites are fully equipped with acidic weapons that can be painful to potential predators. Also, they are known to bang their heads against tunnel walls as a kind of alarm telling other soldiers to join them and for workers to seek cover. In fact, whenever hives are breached, soldiers are known to stand outside the breach while workers quickly try to patch up the breakage in the hive wall.

Queens

Like all typical eusocial insects, termites have queens. Young termite queens often have wings and are usually the only termites with fully functional eyes alongside that of termite kings.

Kings

Unlike most eusocial insects where the unlucky males get to mate with their queen and die afterwards, male termites stay with their spouses. The duties of a king often include fertilizing eggs for the queen and feeding undeveloped members of the hive.