Termites at Work

September 13th, 2011 - 5:21 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | 1 Comment

July 9, 2011 | Tupaciguara, Minas Gerais, Brazil

Just after dark, termites started emerging from below ground. Here they appear to be excavating. The darker soil has been brought up from below by workers while guards form a defensive perimeter.

Crooked Jaw Termites

August 28th, 2011 - 12:41 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | 4 Comments

5-10mm | July 3, 2011 | Tupaciguara, Minas Gerais, Brazil

As promised in my last post, here are some termites where the soldiers are much larger than the workers. Large is relative though, since although they are twice the size of the workers, these soldiers still only measure one centimeter.

Soldiers are twice the size of workers

Based on Hogue’s Latin American Insects and subsequent web searches, I believe these are termites in the genus Neocapritermes, which he refers to in an illustration as crooked jaw termites. The name certainly fits. My first thoughts after seeing one of these soldiers was that it was deformed.

Soldiers have crooked jaws

After seeing a few more, my thoughts turned to wondering what purpose those jaws might serve. I thought they kind of looked like bulldozers, and that perhaps they’d just push and perhaps flip away intruders.

Another soldier

The size of the head suggested there were large muscles powering the jaws though, so I wasn’t quite convinced of that.

Large head for strong jaw muscles

Here’s a closer look at the mouthparts.

Mandibles and palps

Even the workers are interesting with their transparent bodies.

Worker with transparent body

You can see their digestive track and perhaps some other organs.

Group of workers

So what exactly are the jaws used for? See for yourself in this video, as a soldier rather effortlessly flicks away an ant. The action is around the 20 second mark.

Reference:

Latin American Insects and Entomology
by Charles L. Hogue

Nasutitermes Termites

August 21st, 2011 - 5:22 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | 1 Comment

2-3mm | July 3, 2011 | Tupaciguara, Minas Gerais, Brazil

Previously, I showed you some termites where the soldiers and workers were about the same size. Here, the soldier (at top) is actually smaller. Termites in the subfamily Nasutitermitinae, like these, have soldiers called nasutes. Nasutes don’t need to be big because they don’t rely on strength. Instead, they have specialized snouts for spraying a defensive substance.

In some species the substance is sticky and serves to disable or slow down small predators, like ants. In others the substance is noxious and repellent.

Soldiers standing guard

Next up, I’ll show you some termites where the soldiers are quite large indeed. That sentence sounds like something David Attenborough would say. Read it again and imagine his voice :).

Only Termites Shall Pass

July 16th, 2011 - 7:22 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | No comments

July 9, 2011 | Tupaciguara, Minas Gerais, Brazil

A phalanx of termite soldiers forms a first line of defense in front of foraging workers (not shown). I accidentally breathed on them shortly after this shot and they all quickly retreated.

Termite Soldiers

July 7th, 2011 - 10:34 AM | Filed under Featured Photos | 1 Comment

July 2, 2011 | Monte Alegre, Minas Gerais, Brazil

I generally overlook termites, but this trip I decided I’d change that. These were the first ones I found. They were busy pulling grains underground.

Now that I’ve been paying attention, I can see there’s quite a variety. In this species, the soldiers and the workers are about the same size.

Soldier with worker