L=0.2-0.4" (4-11mm). Workers are yellowish-white, and soldiers
have large, yellowish-orange heads with black mandibles. Note: pictured
termite is Zimbabwe. Look for the mud encasements around woody plants
which the termites construct to keep them from the elements and predators.
NATURAL HISTORY: Without termites, we would have to wade through undecomposed
plant material (including that in herbivore dung), and there would be
little else because all the nutrients would be tied up in the undecomposed
materials and unavailable for living plants (and thus animals). So,
no termites, no desert ecosystem. Here's why... Plants contain large
percentages of cellulose, a very strong sugar molecule that gives plants
their rigid structure but is very difficult to digest. To breakdown
cellulose requires a special enzyme called cellulase. Very few organisms
produce cellulase, but some specialized fungi and protozoans (microscopic
organisms) do produce cellulase. Termites raise some of these cellulase-producing
protozoans in their guts in a mutualistic relationship where both species
benefit. The termites provide housing for the protozoans and send down
chewed up pieces of plant material for the protozoans to breakdown into
simpler, more digestible sugars. Then the termites "share"
in consuming the digestible sugars. I know you are wondering how the
little protozoans get into the termites in the first place -- well here
you go. Soon after hatching, the young termites feed on the protozoan-laced
feces or regurgitated food from their older siblings or parents.
are social insects, living in large colonies. Termites show division
of labor and even have different-looking castes -- queen (lays the eggs),
king (inseminates the queen), soldiers (defend the colony), and workers
(that do everything else, including feeding the queen, king, and soldiers).