Termite mounds differ from species to species although to the amateur student of termites, many of them seem alike. However, an expert can often guess the species just by looking at the mound. Termites build their nests in all kinds of places. Some build theirs in living trees like bees, others build them in dead upright or fallen trees. Tree stumps are a favourite of some other types of termite, which is why it is always suggested that you do away with tree stumps in termite zones.
Then there are yet another sort of termite – those that prefer to live in or close to the ground. Those that live in the soil are called subterranean termites. As they mine their tunnels and hollow out the chambers for their nests, they eat a lot of the material and compact a lot more, but what they find excessive, they carry to the surface. This often forms part of the nest, but not a vital part of it. This makes a termite mound of sorts, but they are not the spectacular ones that you see in films.
Those termite mounds, also erroneously known as ant hills in Africa and Australia, are made by termites that live above ground, although most varieties will also have tunnels and chambers underground as well. These are the big structures that termites are famous for.
They are largely built by termites living in the dry savannas and dry wastelands of Australia and Africa. The largest known to man is about nine metres (thirty feet) high, although the average is closer to a little over a metre (three or four feet) high.
Nevertheless, these termite mounds are not only impressive for their height. They are also remarkably robust. Elephants sometimes use them as scratching posts. Imagine that! Two tons of elephant rubbing itself up and down on your earthen hut or even a wooden house. But the really fascinating stuff goes on inside.
The eggs and the nymphs (young) of some species can only survive within a tolerance of plus or minus one degree centigrade. The Compass Termite manages that by creating a wedge shaped mound with the longest sides facing north-south. This allows the predominant drafts to be drawn in by the column of hot air rising from the base of the nest up to and out of the roof of the mound.
The termite mounds of some species are so picturesque and weird that they attract tourists, who invariably gaze in awe at the design and intricacy of the mound. Scientists too have been studying termite mounds for a long time and lately Australian engineers have joined in.
They are hoping that they will be able to learn termite technology in order to construct large buildings so that they are more self-regulating. They are actually constructing a man-made termite mound to try out their theories in the anticipation that they will be able to build them into future designs.
So, in a few years time, if someone asks you what a termite mound looks like, you may simply be able to point at the civic offices and say: like that.
Owen Jones, the author of this article, writes on many subjects, but is currently concerned with Termidor termite treatment – a termite killer. If you are interested in this or if you are wondering: What Does A Termite Look Like?. Please go to our web site now for further details.