A Different Take on Termites | Londolozi Blog

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Kyle Gordon

Contributor

Kyle was born and raised in the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe. His childhood was spent scurrying barefooted along the banks of various rivers and dams, fishing rod ever-in-hand, enjoying the beauty and freedom of outdoors. Kyle obtained a degree in construction from UCT ...

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21 Comments

on A Different Take on Termites

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Victoria Auchincloss
Digital Tracker

interesting, but I have to say a bit creepy. one year we were in Botswana on our way to Londolozi and the second day we were there the inhabitants of the mounds were evacuating and flying all all over. They were the prey of every flying animal and our guide told us that his grandmother used to catch them, fry them and eat them, He said they are a source if protein! Thank you for filling the blanks of the lives of termites. Victoria

Bob and Lucie Fjeldstad
Guest contributor

We heard the same thing. A frying pan with a little oil and garlic and they become a delicacy, or so we have been told.

Kyle Gordon
Contributor

Hi Victoria, Bob and Lucie. Indeed they can be fried and have a delicious buttery taste! I wouldn’t say it’s my go-to dish but I’m definitely not averse to a fried termite or two!

Francesca Doria
Digital Tracker

Hi, termites and all social insects in general are a great topic of debate upon their intelligence and social habits. They were disregarded because they are such small animals but now from bees onwards they are found to have lots of neurons and neuronal connections. Very interesting! I also loved the pictures of cheetah and leopards. For the insects “haters ” think that they allow these majestic predators a way to check the environment and to rest… also as you said an excellent source of food. Thanks for the article!

Kyle Gordon
Contributor

Hi Francesca, I definitely agree. It’s all about a holistic rather than reductionist approach. Looking at these masses of insects as an organism entire rather than each insect as an individual. I’m glad you enjoyed!

Denise Vouri
Guest contributor

Kyle, what a fascinating, though somewhat chilling description of a termite mound. I won’t ever look at one the same way again. The mounds remind me of Adobe structures as found in various places in the world, before they’re covered in vegetation. I remember a dinner one evening, sitting outside, when suddenly this blanket-like flurry of silvery flying creatures, attracted by the light, joined us for a brief time until we gave up to go inside. It occurred just after a mighty rainfall in the Okavango Delta. Thanks for this unique view of the how and whys of the termite mound.

Kyle Gordon
Contributor

I haven’t looked at them the same way since reading The Soul of the White Ant. It’s such an interesting take on these little creatures!

Christa Blessing
Master Tracker

What an interesting article about the secret life of termites. Thanks! They are amazing creatures, indeed.

Linda Rawles
Senior Digital Ranger

This is not a stretch. Some of us see the whole planet – Gaia – as one living organism. Even we humans can each be a unique soul and being, and simultaneously an interconnected part of the Universal Soul and Gaia. Lovely piece.

Kyle Gordon
Contributor

I agree 100%, Linda. I found so many parallels to this idea in The Gaia Hypothesis by James Lovelock too!

Bob and Lucie Fjeldstad
Guest contributor

Kyle, more facts than I have ever heard about termite mounds. We will never quite view them the same, but how can you know if a mound is still active or not? It’s obvious if another species is inhabiting it but otherwise what are the clues to its current condition?

Kyle Gordon
Contributor

Hi Bob and Lucie. it’s an interesting question and actually not the easiest to answer. One way to tell is by looking for signs of fresh construction in the from of a different and more dark coloured area. Another is to hold your hand over an open chimney hole (check for snakes first) and feel if heat is rising out; that is strong indicator of the mound being active. Grass will grow around and partially up the side of active mounds but once the mound is entirely engulfed in vegetation, I usually find these are abandoned. I hope that helps!

Valmai Vorster
Digital Tracker

Kyle very interesting and they all work so hard in unity, something like a workaholic. It is only the queen that does nothing, everything gets done for her. But the termite mounds make good places for different animals to see over the horizon. Once they stand on the mount they can see very far for predators or for something to kill, or just to lean on while resting.

Joan Schmiidt
Master Tracker

Kyle, loved leopards🤗

In the past, I had always looked at termites as pests for homeowners, but after watching them in what they do for the environment by eating the dead leaves, dead wood, and dead branches. They also help the soil by enriching it with nutrients. Then mother nature has her birds and others come in to feast on them which helps in population control. I’ve learn to co-exist.

Kyle Gordon
Contributor

I’m glad you have, Linda! They are a keystone species out here and without them the entire ecosystem would be knocked out of balance and we’d all be up to our eyeballs in wood and grass.

Michael and Terri Klauber
Guest contributor

Kyle, Thanks for the interesting and educational read! Obviously we have seen thousands of termite mounds over the years on our visits to Londolozi. Some of them seem like they are not active and are used by other animals for dens and hiding places. Why do some of the mounds seem to be abandoned?

Kyle Gordon
Contributor

HI Michael and Terri. Some mounds die naturally as the queen dies without having a replacement queen to take over and sometimes the queen is killed by an overly enthusiastic aardvark. At that point the entire colony will die off or migrate to a neighbouring mound where they are “adopted” by the neighbouring queen. That’s when the warthogs, wild dogs, snakes, lizards, mongooses and all sorts of animals will take over.

Dries Marais
Explorer

Good day, Kyle,

Yes, Eugene Marais was a most interesting and thorough scientist / psychologist / author and poet. His other book “The Soul Of The Ape” was plagiarised in England and the false author received the Nobel prize for scientific literature for it. It is also a must read. Marais was a nephew of my mother’s father. But back to termites:

They are far more complex and worthy and rewarding to study in greater depth than mere visual observation. Had there been no termites we would have had no trees and grass.

Lewis Thomas in his fantastic little work “The Lives Of A Cell” (he is a cancer research micro-biologist) describes the digestive tract of the termite. In it lives what was thought to be a single cell organism called Mixotricha paradoxa, which assists the termite to break down indigestable nibbles of wood (cellulose) into a digestable carbohydrate and lignin – the excreta of termites. These in itself is worthy of study as each one particle is of the precise geometric shape to allow building of the domes and arches in the termite mound. Mixotricha paradoxa dashes off to each particle of cellulose, dwells a moment and then dashes off to another one. Then large magnification showed it has sets of tiny “flagelae” (paddles like what seals have), called spirocettes to propel it. Then one day a researcher viewed these spirocettes under an electron scanning microscope and nearly fell off his chair – they are individual live cells that bite in unison onto the sides of the body of Mixotricha paradoxa and THEY are the collective brain that take him to the food. Or so it was thought. At even larger magnification it was seen that that where these spirocettes bite onto the skin of Mixotricha tiny folds happen in the skin. When a piece of cellulose is reached, tiny, tiny little creatures come out of these microfolds and THEY work over the snippets of food. These are called “organellae” and THEY are the collective brain of the spirocettes and of Mixotricha paradoxa.

Organellae that are alive and well and millions and millions of years old have been found in the frozen tundra of Siberia, and for millions of years have not eaten anything.

It also seems they are present in the cells of that faculty of the human brain that has to do with decision making. THEY- it seems – are the life that has been around eternally. It seems to be their influence which guides the decisions and actions of the psychopath versus a “normal” brain – to name but one example of the true life around the “soul of the white ant”.

There is much more of course. There appears to be good reason why it was advised to “Look at an ant, you lazy fool; watch it closely…”

Regards.

Kyle Gordon
Contributor

Hi Dries, I will definitely give “Soul of the Ape” a read. I’ve also been meaning two read “My Friends the Baboons” too! That description of the Mixotrichia paradox is fascinating; it’s almost fractal-esque. If you keep looking deeper, you will find even more complex layers of inter-connectiveness between “separate” organisms that form something vastly more complex that is so much greater than the sum of its parts.

I’m going to look deeper into he organelle and their role in the decision making of the brain, that’s definitely aroused my curiosity.

Thanks so much for this, Dries; you’ve set me on an interesting path here.

Wendy Macnicol
Digital Tracker

Thank you so much for a MOST interesting article and with the pics. So very interesting. I was also most interested to read the very well written and interesting comment by Dries Marais and his comment from the Bible in Proverbs 6 : 6 “Go to the ant, you sluggard! Consider her ways and be wise ….” We have an incredible beyond Genius of a God and Creator with an intelligence we little Earthlings cannot begin to understand. How could Globerina Ooze dream up anything at all – never mind the genius in the life and work of the Termites or Ants? And the Artistry in Nature is just mind bogglingly Beautiful! Just my thoughts. Wendy M

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