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Monday, 14 January 2013

"T" is for Termite!

CCF has carried out a number of camera trapping surveys, and also maintains a network of cameras positioned for ongoing monitoring of the wildlife on our land.  While we are mainly focused on cheetahs, there are many other species out there, and the cameras will trigger no matter what passes them by.  In this series of blog entries, I will use these pictures to illustrate some of the wealth of animal life in Namibia – about one species per week.  I hope you will enjoy seeing a little more of our world here in the bush.

T is for… Termite.  Technically we only have photos of termite mounds, but I hope you'll like the entry all the same.

There are several hundred termite species in the area, none of which are listed on the IUCN redlist.  At CCF we are lucky enough to have fungus-growing termites, from which we harvest a small number of the large mushrooms produced (typically 30cm diameter) to supplement our own table at mealtime. 

These termites feed predominantly on vegetable matter, and can be highly damaging in areas where crops are grown.  Here, however, they have ample food sources amongst natural vegetation, although they do sometimes consume wooden fence posts.  Elsewhere in the world, termites have been known to burrow through all sorts of building materials including concrete, and annually cause billions of US dollars of damage.

The mounds created by termite colonies hereabouts generally range in size from 1-2m, although I know of one that is around 4m.  What is seen on the surface is only about 25-30% of the total mound size, with the rest buried beneath the surface.  Air temperature within and without is about the same as the surrounding temperature, although it is believed that the maze of tunnels may help with air purity within the colony.  The queens can be found in large chambers underground, and many species mate for life, each with a single breeding male.

Most other insects are repelled either by soldier termites, or via a system of 'chemical' warfare with some species able to produce powerful insect repellants that are dispersed through the nest.

Termites are high in protein, even more so than beef, and are considered a delicacy in many countries, including Namibia.  Fried termites taste rather like roasted peanuts.  In other parts of Africa, termite flour is made, and even termite stock cubes. 

Although much research is still needed, termites do not appear to be in any way endangered, with numbers estimated to be either stable or in some cases increasing.

A cheetah standing on a termite mound

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