Termites are insects that are most closely related to cockroaches. They have a similar appearance to ants, and they are sometimes known as white ants, but they are not actually related to the ant family. Termites have a similar social structure to ants and there are workers and soldiers. Most termites live in nests and some termite mounds can grow to very impressive sizes (9m high). Termites can be found throughout much of the subtropical and tropical regions of the world. There are about 4,000 species of termites and about 10% of these are considered to be a pest (see picture below). This is due to the fact that these species cause damage to buildings, crops, or wood plantations. This might give us a clue about the common diet of the termite!
What do termites eat?
Termites are best known for eating plant matter. The best known members are those that feed on drywood, which can cause considerable damage to manmade buildings. However, all termites eat cellulose (an organic compound found in plant matter). The most common diet of all termite species is dead plant matter, such as wood, soil and leaf litter. Some species will also feed on animal dung. In times where food is scarce termites will prey on smaller insects for survival.
Did you know?
Certain species of termites keep a garden of specific fungi, which are fertilized by the waste produced by the termites. When the fungi are fully grown the termites eat them and the spores pass into their feces which produces more fungi!
Most termite species rely on bacteria and other microorganisms to help them digest the cellulose that they eat. Some species can produce the enzyme required to digest cellulose, but even these require helpful bacteria to aid digestion!
Australian scientists have found that termites have trace amounts of gold in their nests and they believe that studying these nests might be a viable method of finding deposits of gold!