Termite Activity Within Soil Provides The Animal Kingdom With Food
As much as people hate termites for the damage that they cause to manmade structures, there is no doubt about the ecological benefits that result from termite activity within soil. Subterranean termites, as their name would suggest, are soil dwelling insects that can travel several feet below the earth’s surface. Ground soil that is starved for nutrients becomes rejuvenated by the minerals that termites bring to the soil’s surface. Mound building termites are comprised almost entirely of subterranean termites. These mound building termites are particularly beneficial to the environment, as these termites move more soil than non-mound building termites. This is understandable given that some termite mounds take up to five years to complete and can reach nearly twenty feet in height. Constructing these towering mounds requires massive amounts of clay, silt, sand and saliva. The termite saliva is used to bind the three natural materials into a sort of building block. Removing this clay from the soil results in minerals being brought to the ground’s surface, which allows for the continued growth of vegetation. However, many people are not aware of the fact that subterranean termite activity provides numerous animals with nutritious forms of sustenance.
The movement of minerals to the ground’s surface during mound construction allows for the cultivation of plants. After termite mounds become abandoned, the mounds progressively decrease in height due to wind and rain. Once the mounds resemble small hills, vegetation begins to grow on the mounds, providing grazing wildlife with mineral rich food. Animals such as white rhinos and zebras prefer to consume grass growing on termite mounds as opposed to grass growing in marked pastures due to the superior mineral content present in mound-grown plants. Termite mounds also provide elephants with much needed nutrients. Elephants often lack salt in their diets, which has led them to consume the salt-rich dirt used to build termite mounds. These elephants use their tusks to pick out salty minerals from hardened termite mounds. This type of feeding behavior is known as “geophagy”, and even pregnant women living in some African villages have taken to eating dirt from termite mounds due to the reported prenatal health benefits that it provides. If that is not strange enough, early European settlers would often use termite mounds as clay ovens for bread-baking.
Do you know of any other ecological benefits that termites provide that were not mentioned in this blog?