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African Termite Fact File

Macrotermes bellicosus

Weight

Insufficient

Records

Length

4-15mm

(0.16-0.6in)

Lifespan

Queen 20 years

Workers 3 months

Diet

Herbivore

Dry leaves and grasses

Conservation Status

IUCN

Not Evaluated

The African termite is best known for the large mounds which colonies form to live within. This is built out of clay and sand with a total height of up to 3m (10ft).

These animals participate in a basic form of agriculture where they grow fungus on wood which they can then feed on.

Groups of African termites are formed of four different varieties. These are the workers who produce food and maintain the nest, soldiers which defend the nest, the queen who produces all the eggs and a king who mates with the queen.

Each termite colony can have over a million members all of which are offspring of the one female known as the queen.

Learn more about these incredible insects by reading on below.

Appearance

African termites come in four main forms with the soldiers which protect the nest, the workers who gather food, nurse larvae and tend the nest, the queen who lays the eggs and the king who mates with the queen.

The queen produces all of the termites in a colony. She has a small head and six legs at the front of the body with her abdomen expanding to form a large white sac at the back of the body.

Soldiers have a large head and a powerful jaw which can be used to fight off threats such as ants.

The king is much smaller than the female and often found near her.

The coloration of the workers is determined by the food they gather. Those feeding on fungus comb have a dark brown abdomen while those eating plant litter have reddish-brown abdomens.

Diet


To feed themselves the African termite will engage in a primitive form of agriculture. They gather wood and leaves which are not digestible. These are used to grow a fungus which can only grow in the conditions created within termite mounds.

African Termites

Range

Africa is the native home of this species. They are found in the North of the continent. The species is found in Benin; Côte d'Ivoire; Ghana; Guinea; Kenya; Nigeria; Sudan and Uganda.

Habitat

They occupy savanna and forest habitats in Africa.

Reproduction

The king termite remains near the queen at all times and will mate with her regularly.

Each day the queen will lay up to 43,000 eggs. She may live for up to 30 years in a well defended room within the nest.

Over the lifetime of the colony the number of members will grow and this leads them to increase the size of the mound.

After hatching the majority of the nymphs will not complete their metamorphosis in to an adult. They will spend their life in the nest they were born working to raise larva or acquire food for the colony.

Prior to the rainy season a small number of the nymphs finish their metamorphosis at which point they develop reproductive organs and wings. At night they emerge from the nest and find a mate with which they will settle down and form a new colony.

The queen's abdomen will swell massively and she begins to lay eggs. Workers then wall up the nest and carry the eggs away along with bringing her food.

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Behavior

Termites live in large nests known as the "castle" or termitarium. These are large red-brown structures sticking up out of the earth. They may be 9m (30ft) in height and 3m (10ft) across. Along with the above ground structure they extend far underground.

African termites build their nest from clay which is moistened with their saliva. Large amounts of building occur at the start of the wet season. It takes several years after the colony is established for their nest to rise above the ground.

The group form tunnels and openings throughout this structure which channel air through the termite mound and act as an air-conditioning system.

They live in a structured colony headed by the queen and king who mate and produce all of the workers and soldiers. Workers take care of larva, maintain the nest and gather food while soldiers defend the nest.

Each colony may include up to a million termites.

Predators and Threats

Natural predators of the termite include aardvarks, pangolins, frogs and birds. Birds often grab African termites as they complete their mating flights.

In parts of their range the African termite is eaten by humans or by livestock.

These animals will impact humans as their large nests get in the way of agricultural development. At this point they are often blown up causing the destruction of the colony.

Quick facts

Termites are often associated with ants but the two groups are unrelated. Instead the termites are most closely related to cockroaches.

In parts of their range they may be known as the war-like termite.

The Bellicosus portion of their scientific name comes from a Latin word for "combative."

Scientists are yet to determine why the king and queen termite are able to live for so much longer than the workers and soldiers.

African Termites

Photo Credits

Top and Middle

ETF89, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Bottom

© c michael Hogan, CC-BY-NC-SA <https://www.inaturalist.org/photos/5945690> via iNaturalist.

References

Tomasinelli, F., Yumenokaori and Knight, S., 2020. Bugs of the world. 1st ed. New York: Hachette Book Group, pp.44-45.

Biology-resources.com. 2021. Termites, Macrotermes. Life-cycle, economic importance, prevention of damage. Biology article by D G Mackean. [online] Available at: <http://www.biology-resources.com/termite-01.html> [Accessed 24 May 2021].

Cabi.org. 2021. Macrotermes bellicosus (war-like, termite (Sudan)). [online] Available at: <https://www.cabi.org/isc/datasheet/32120> [Accessed 24 May 2021].

iNaturalist. 2021. Macrotermes bellicosus. [online] Available at: <https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/346641-Macrotermes-bellicosus> [Accessed 24 May 2021].

Basel, Z., 2021. Termite colony. [online] Zoobasel.ch. Available at: <https://www.zoobasel.ch/en/tiere/tierlexikon/tierbeschreibung/286/termiten-volk/> [Accessed 24 May 2021].

University of Freiburg. "The secret of a long life." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/05/180508111727.htm (accessed May 24, 2021).

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