HandsOn 19 - Termite Tunnel Patterns

The process of finding wild termites (as opposed to domesticated termites) varies by geographic region. In New England, we go to a wooded park and search among the remains of dead trees on the ground. Termites like soft, damp wood. An ax, a hammer with a good claw, or a crowbar are useful tools to pry or split open rotting wood. You will encounter many different insects during your search, in particular carpenter ants, but with luck you will find termites. The best time to find termites is during warm weather. In the fall termites go underground to escape the cold winter. (What can be so fine as a day in June hunting termites with your hatchet?) In some cases it is possible to order termites from biological supply companies. The termites we find locally are the species flavipes reticulitermes.

Once a colony is found, collect the pieces of wood and place them in plastic trash bags. If possible, also collect some of the earth surrounding the piece of wood. It is a good idea to use a double bag (one bag inside another) to prevent tears and the subsequent escape of the termites.

When you get the termites back to the laboratory, place the logs in plastic trays, boxes, or tubs lined on the bottom with the dirt you collected. Be sure to drill or puncture holes in the lid of the container for ventilation. Periodically the wood should be sprayed with water to maintain an adequate moisture level. The greatest threat to the colony is dehydration. If you plan on keeping the termites for a period of time, use a mold inhibitor in the spray. This will prevent mold from growing on the wood, which can kill the colony.

To create termite tunnels in the laboratory, follow this procedure:

You should remove the termites from the cell if:

Data Analysis


Figure 5.10: A typical termite colony after several days growth.

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