Better Than Bees – Worker Termites Build Large Nest in the Amazon

October 09, 2012
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Anyone visiting the neotropics is most likely very aware of the large, paper-like nests that are often found in trees at various levels from near ground level to the mid-story or even the higher canopy at times. These large structures are the nests of a variety of type of termites. (Not a variety in one nest but each species makes nest in similar shapes)

The nest material is made up of digested wood as well as termite feces. Within the nest are many chambers, and deep within the nest will be a very large queen, or sometimes multiple queens, whose job it is to lay thousands of eggs. The termitaria, as the termite nest is called, are constructed by workers that are basically sterile females and all are sisters…go figure. However, in some termite species, some workers may also be male. Also of interest are the large soldiers whose role it is to protect the termitaria.

During your Amazon Voyage, ask your naturalist to hack into a termitaria as you depart for an excursion. Upon your return, check the nest and you may well find that the entire damaged area has been repaired. Hundreds of workers will work non-stop to make repairs as this is important to retain vital humidity levels as well as keep out torrential rains when they occur.

One last note about termites is their symbiotic relationship with a little protozoan that lives in the gut of the termite. Termites are not capable of digesting wood as the cellulose cannot be broken down without the help from a hitchhiker in the stomach of the termite. It is a protozoan that digests the wood making it available as food and nesting material for the termite. In return, the little stomach critter gets deposited in various places and it too is fed as the termite has an insatiable need to feed on wood.


Naturalist Greg Greer is a favorite among IE travelers, and has gained a reputation for his friendliness and good humor, along with his incomparable knowledge of natural history, photos and articles have been widely published in books and magazines, including Georgia Outdoor News, Bird Watcher’s Digest, Alabama Outdoor News, Riversedge and Southern Wildlife.