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158

termites

OLogy Series
animal
card
158

termites

OLogy Series
animal

A rotting log is a mighty tasty meal -- if you're a termite. Termites not only eat wood, some kinds live in it, too. Termites are social insects. This doesn't mean that they like to talk a lot -- it means that each member of the colony has an important job. Workers gather food, soldiers protect the nest and attack intruders, and the king and queen produce thousands of new termites each year.

Digging Up Tasty Termites
Over a million years ago, an apelike creature known today as Australopithecus
robustus lived on Earth. Many scientists used to think that this distant cousin of humans was a vegetarian. But recent evidence shows that Australopithecus robustus sometimes ate termites. How did
the scientists make this discovery? They studied fossilized tools that were found near the ape-man's skeleton. The tools were actually long, sharp animal bones, roughly the size of a pencil. Using high-tech microscopic methods and computer programs, scientists found tiny scratches on these million-year-old bones. These markings provide strong evidence that the
ape-man used these bones as tools to break open termite mounds.

How do termites communicate with each other?

Their bodies release chemicals with special odors.

They bang their heads against colony tunnels to create vibrations.

Both A and B.

Are you right?

Correct!

Termites usually send messages to each other by releasing special scents called pheromones. In addition, they sometimes bang their heads against underground tunnels to create vibrations and alert the others.

Which termite has a large, armored head with long jaws?

queen

worker

soldier

Are you right?

Correct!

Soldier termites have strong outer skeletons to protect them against bites from insect enemies that may try to invade the colony. Ants and termites often engage in tough battles.

A termite's gut is home to millions of tiny living things.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fact

Without the millions of microbes inside its gut, a termite would starve. They help termites digest the wood they eat. In some colorless termites, you can see right into their stomachs!

termites
Order: Isoptera
Size: 1/4 to 3/8 of an inch long
Range: live underground and in trees throughout the world
Diet: wood
Characteristics: whitish-clear insect with small antennae and four equal-sized wings
Significance: help decompose wood on the forest floor

Image credits: courtesy of Scott Bauer, Agricultural Research Service.