Arthropods of St. John Part II

One of the ubiquitous arboreal termite colonies, or termitaria, found on the island. Known locally as wood lice or wood ants, this Nasutitermes species builds large nests of partially digested wood pulp mixed with their own saliva and feces. The material looks like mud from a distance. The nests are often found broken up on the ground, brought down by their own weight. Here’s a chunk of the brittle, friable nest: These critters do not like the light: they even turn their trails into tunnels, as this one, snaking up a tree:I found this tunnel across a path. It had been stepped on by an earlier walker:If you look closely, you can see two of the three termite castes in this scrum: the round-headed workers and the pointy-headed soldiers (their heads are also darker). The soldier’s proboscis sprays noxious chemicals in defense of the colony. I didn’t smell anything unusual, probably because the disruption was already over and now the termites were working to repair the damage. The third caste, the reproductives, are generally only seen in the fall when they take to wing.

Termites from a single nest may build tunnels in a territory as large as a football field. They generally don’t eat living wood, so they are recyclers of dead wood in the forest. Their waste pumps nitrogen back into the soil. Wood pulp is really hard to digest, so the termites’ guts are loaded with cellulose-digesting bacteria. It’s a symbiotic relationship — like that of humans and our intestinal flora, which consists of something around 500 — the latest count says some 10,000 species of bacteria inhabit human beings inside and out — one passed on, literally, via the young eating the liquid intestinal stew secreted from the business ends of older termites. “Proctodeal feeding,” to the pros. Now, carry on with your breakfast, and feed that gut flora!

3 Responses to “Arthropods of St. John Part II”

  1. 1 G. February 8, 2012 at 10:44 am

    Thanks. We saw a nest on St. John’s during a walk and did a search to find out what it was. Your site was very informative.

  2. 3 pdf viewer download May 10, 2012 at 8:04 am

    “Termites from a single nest may build tunnels in a territory as large as a football field” – live and learn! Thanks for the post and double thanks for the photos!

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