On my trips to the Outback, I was amazed by giant mounds, things I had never seen in my life… I was told they were termite mounds. I thought it would be interesting to write some lines about these not well loved insects. Indeed, they are famous for damaging wooden structures, but actually just a few species do. Out of the 258 described termite species in Australia, only a few wood-damaging species are of concerns to humans. The others eat grass and seeds.
Different Mound Shape
On the way to Cape York, there were like cathedrals and on the Savannah Way, there were smaller and sometimes like boulders, this is simply because there are formed by different species of termites.
We can compare termites mound with an iceberg. Indeed, only 1/3 is visible at the surface, all the rest are galleries and tunnels underground.
A strict organization, a bit like the Army or the Monarchy!
In every mound, there is a Queen and a King. They manage 3 kinds of fellow:
-the soldiers: protect the colony from the black ant which is the major predator
-the workers: build the mound
-the reproductive: keep the population in good numbers
The Queen and the King give orders and decide depending on the needs of the colony if they have to produce more soldiers, workers or reproductive.
They are excellent recyclers. Termites specialize in feeding on dead plant material which leads eventually to the nutrients trapped in it, being released back into the environment for re-use by growing plants. During the dry season, termites are the main decomposers, but they work hard throughout the year.
An Important role for the Ecosystem
To build a giant mound at the human scale, a million blind workers would be required and the mound would be 2km high and 800 meters wide!!!
If termites would be humans...
The topsoil in Northern Australia is largely the result of several thousand years of termite activity. Constantly tunneling through the earth, these busy insects, condition the soil, breaking up hard ground and moving organic material up, down and sideways through it.
Their tunnels can reach considerable depths and probably help water to penetrate.
At the end of its life, a termite nest, whether underground or a mound above the surface, begins to disintegrate. This releases nutrients, in the form of faecal material and other debris, into the soil.
> Their role is very important, particularly in the dry tropics. Without them, the country would be much like a desert, with no tree, no plant, no grass…