14 Fascinating Facts About Termites
It is estimated that around 20% of homes in Australia have or have had a termite infestation. This means you literally have a better chance of winning at Russian roulette than your house being free of termites. They cause billions of dollars of damages every year. If you find this statistic scary, don’t worry - you are not alone. And the “best” part - this is not the scariest fact about termites you’re going to learn today.
Here we would like to introduce some of the more fascinating and interesting facts about termites that will, eventually, help you get to know this pest a little better. After all, the more you know about your enemy, the more likely it is for you to react properly and on time in case of a termite infestation. So, without further ado, let’s get started!
1. Termites are among the best natural architects
While ants hold the title of "The most industrious insects in the animal kingdom" due to their insane coordination, we feel termites aren’t given enough credit. Termite mounds are some of the most fascinating animal-made structures in the world.
It is not often such impressive displays of ingenuity get to outlive their creators, yet this often happens with termite nests, as they stand long after the colony is gone. It is not uncommon for other species to settle into the “ancient ruins” once the original colony has died out.
2. Termites never sleep
It’s no wonder they can create such amazing structures - the little buggers never sleep! Termites work 24/7. Unlike ants that sleep in microsessions, termites are the literal definition of tireless workers. The fact that termites never sleep also means that when you have a termite infestation, they do the damage really fast.
3. A termite is hatched every second
If we may paraphrase P.T. Barnum’s famous saying, “a termite is hatched every second”. This is truer than you might think. Queen termites lay an egg every 15-20 seconds. Remember the part where termites never sleep? Yeah, that’s right - queens lay eggs all day and night without a break. This means a single termite queen can easily lay north of 5,000 eggs a day. Is it no wonder that an infestation spreads so quickly.
4. Long live the queen
To top it all off, termite queens are extremely long-lived. Most species’ queens can easily live up to 25 years, with some species reaching 50! Luckily, workers only live for a year or two, which is small comfort considering how many eggs a queen lays each day. However, this also makes the longevity of termite mounds all the more impressive.
5. A truckful of termites is a real thing
Some species of our very own Australian termites can create enormous colonies. How enormous? Literally enough to fill a truck. Just imagine a truckful of termites, that is quite impressive and scary at the same time.
6. Termites are also called white ants
Termites are often compared to and mistaken for ants. In fact, one of their alternative names is “white ants”. However, termites are actually more closely related to cockroaches than ants. They do have a very complicated caste system, unlike their cockroach brethren. As for their relationship with ants - they are natural enemies.
7. The colonies have a queen and a king
Aside from a queen, termites also have a king. They are the two main reproductives. The king is a bit more short-lived than the queen (a lot if the queen dies - turns out he literally can’t live without her). The termite king and queen release pheromones to chemically suppress other potential contenders to the throne.
After the colony matures a bit (in a few years), they allow other reproductives (called alates) to hatch and fly away to make a new colony. The termite king and queen seal themselves in the royal chamber at the beginning of the colony and do not leave it. Ever.
8. Termites care about hygiene a lot
Termites groom each other very diligently. This is not a sign of vanity - they need to do it to survive. Otherwise, they risk their colony being wiped out by germs or bacteria. They need to be careful with parasites, too.
9. They can flatulate
Yes, they do. Termites have special bacteria in their digestive tract that allow them to break down cellulose. The by-product of this is termite gas - silent, odourless, and undetectable. However, termite gas contain methane which is a greenhouse gas. It is estimated termites are responsible for up to 3% of the methane emissions into the atmosphere, thus contributing to climate change.
10. The mound filtration system
Termites are actually pretty environmentally cautious. Their termite colonies are built in such a way that they stimulate the development of certain species of bacteria that use methane as their primary energy source. This means a part of the termite methane emission gets filtered before reaching the atmosphere.
11. “I’ll have a termite special, please”
In some places in the world (including some parts of Australia), termites are used as a delicacy. It turns out they’re quite nutritious and a great source of protein. In some parts of Asia, they were used as medicine for different ailments, such as headaches and muscle soreness.
12. They’ve been around for a long time
Termites are almost as old as trees, estimated to have evolved from a common ancestor with cockroaches about 250 million years ago by some accounts. Trees were relatively young when termites appeared and started munching on them. Other entomologists believe it’s closer to 150 million years, which either way makes termites quite an ancient menace.
13. The majority of termites are blind
Termites live mostly underground, so it should come as no surprise most of them are blind. Most, but not all. Queens and king termites have eyes, albeit very weak ones. The rest of them are born without eyes. They simply don’t need them. To get around, they use chemical markers, and they bang their heads, sometimes loudly enough that their brethren felt the vibrations throughout the tunnels. Imagine how sensitive they have to be. Truly fascinating!
14. You can hear termites
When you know what you’re doing, you can hear the little buggers at work. Their headbanging through the tunnels underground would be undetectable to your human ears, but you can hear them when they’re digging a tunnel throughout the wooden foundations of your home. They make distinct banging noises you can easily detect, especially if you have a stethoscope handy.
Aside from the banging, you should be able to hear the rustling noise they make as they chew away at your home. Think about it - you can literally hear your repair bill inflating. The good news is this makes them easier to detect and monitor. The bad news is if you can actually hear them, then the infestation is already pretty serious. If you want to take care of it, it’s a good idea to act quickly! Want to try and avoid an infestation? Here are some things Australian homeowners can protect themselves from termites.