Be Thankful That The Largest Termites In The World Don’t Exist In America
There is no denying the fact that termites are highly damaging in the United States. The US is home to several non-native termites that cause billions of dollars in damage every year. For example, the Formosan subterranean termite is one of the most aggressive wood-consuming termites in the world. Not even the native eastern subterranean termites can eat through wood at the speed that Formosans can. However, it is a good thing that Macrotermes bellicosus termites do not dwell in the US. Not only do these termites infest man-made structures, but they are also the largest termites in the world. These termites are also known for building exceptionally high nesting mounds that you would be horrified to find in your local park.
The M. bellicosus termites are clearly visible to humans, and you would certainly hear an audible crunching sound if you were to step on one. The workers of this species are an inch and a half long on average. This may not sound like much, but workers are the smallest types of termites in a colony. An inch in a half in length far exceeds the size of worker termites belonging to other termite species, but the size of the queen is particularly impressive. Queen termites are always substantially larger than workers and soldiers, but the M. bellicosus queen is over four inches long. It is hard to imagine a termite that is one third of a whole foot long. Luckily for people living in the Americas, these termites only inhabit regions of Africa and southeast Asia. M. bellicosus colonies can include hundreds of thousands of members.
This species is not subterranean, but they begin to build their towering mounds slightly below the soil’s surface. Each termite ventures into the subsoil in order to retrieve clay, which they carry in their mouths. They also carry a single grain of sand back to the mound construction site. The clay will become moist from the saliva in the termites mouthparts. The workers will create the mound walls by using the moistened clay as a pliable material to hold the grain of sand in place. Although this process may sound time consuming termites can complete large nests in a surprisingly quick amount of time since worker termites never stop building. If clay within the subsoil is abundant and rainfall is low then these termites can build tall narrow mounds that reach nine meters in height. However, if rainfall is heavy, then termites will build shorter and wider mounds, as rain can dissolve taller mounds. The mounds that these termites build can often obstruct the path of heavy farming or construction machinery. In these cases the M. bellicosus mounds must be detonated with explosives, or destroyed by bulldozers. These measures need to be taken often and they can add a significant extra cost to crop cultivation or construction projects. The M. bellicosus termites cause damage to wood-constructed buildings and furniture. These termites can cause wood structures to collapse by creating tunnels within wooden materials while feeding.
Do you think that there are any types of ants that prey on termites as large as M. bellicosus?