How Termites Are Enabling The Survival Of An Endangered Species

Since termites are ecologically essential insects, it could be said that they work to provide the animal kingdom with food sources. Without termites, much of the earth’s soil would not be fertile enough to sprout the plant life that many animals feed upon in order to survive. Not surprisingly, termite mounds are composed of a special form of soil that is uniquely fertile. Termite mounds that are located within desert landscapes often provide desert-dwelling animals with their only source of nutritious plant life. Amazingly, many animals even rely on termite mounds for their own nesting purposes. In the past, this blog has described how certain animals make use of termite mounds. Some termites seem willing to share their mounds with other animals that offer a mutually beneficial living arrangement. For example, some beetles that live in termite mounds secrete a substance that the original termite inhabitants consume. There also exists many lizard species that seem to live peacefully within inhabited termite mounds. One group of lizards that are known as goannas were recently found using Australian termite mounds as incubators for their own eggs. Researchers believe that termites and their nesting mounds may be saving goannas from extinction in the country.

Last year, in an effort to track the dwindling goanna population in Australia, researchers and citizen scientists outfitted several goannas with GPS trackers. The National Parks Association allowed ecologist Dr. Don Fletcher to release and track the goannas within the Namadgi National Park. Dr. Fletcher was surprised to find that many of the goannas had been gravitating toward termite mounds. Goannas were found guarding two termite mounds that Dr. Fletcher hypothesized had been holding goanna eggs. This hypothesis was confirmed as true after one of the mounds produced hatchlings. Surveillance footage later showed goanna mothers periodically returning to particular termite mounds in order to see if their offspring had yet hatched and emerged from the mounds. Although goannas cannot move particularly fast, GPS evidence shows that many goannas had traveled around 12 miles just to reach termite mounds. Increased access to termite mounds could explain the recent boost in the goanna population in the national park.

During the summer, goannas lay their eggs within termite mounds. The high internal mound temperature keeps the goanna eggs heated during the winter season. These high temperatures are essential in order for the eggs to mature properly, and goanna mothers only use specific termite mounds for this purpose. Once spring arrives, the goanna eggs hatch from the mound and consume the inhabiting termites as their first meal. Before this study, scientists were unaware of this relationship between goannas and termites, but this relationship may be what is keeping goannas from becoming extinct.

Do you think that numerous animals make use of termite mounds for purposes that scientists have yet to understand?

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