How do termites manage to digest wood?« Back to Questions List

Termites or white ants are insects living in colonies whose members are organized into castes. A colony may consists of more than a million insects, 95% of them belong to the worker caste. These wingless workers are blind and use their sense of smell, taste and touch to explore their world and build big and elaborate homes. They also collect food for themselves and other castes.


termite,digest, wood

The soldier caste is also blind and wingless. They have powerful jaws with which they defend the colony against ants and other invaders. Few also rely on chemical defense by ejecting a sticky substance, entangling and killing the intruders. The reproductives make up the next caste. The colony usually has a king and a queen who are fed by the workers. The queen may live for decades and lay as many as 30,000 eggs per day.


Though termites feed on wood, many if not all, cannot digest wood by themselves. Cellulose digesting protozoans in their digestive systems usually do the work. Termites are not born with these protozoans, so the young ones get them from the pre digested food fed by the workers. Each time it molts, it loses the protozoans. As it shares food with other termites, it is infected anew.


Many species lacking protozoans grow fungi in their nests, eating both the fungi and the decayed substances produced by the fungi. Many feed on grass that is carried into the nest and cured. Still others eat decaying matter in the soil.


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