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What Do Termites Eat?

What Do Termites Eat?

Even though lots of people believe that termites are ants and often call them ‘white ants’, they are not ants at all.  These insects are closely related to cockroaches.  There are about 3106 species of termites currently alive and researchers believe that there might still be a few hundred species more that has yet to be described and classed.

These insects are members of the Isoptera order and they function a lot like bee colonies with separate workers and soldiers that are usually sterile as well as a few kings and one or two queens per colony.

Termites are some of the most feared insects for property owners.  These insects might be tiny, but they can cause a lot of damage because of their strange diet.

What Do Termites Eat?

In termite colonies, it is only the workers that eat food while the rest of the colony receives their nutrients through the trophallaxis process.  Termite workers never do sleep and need to eat a lot to maintain the high energy levels they need to stay active.

Termites are detritivores.  This means they mainly feed on detritus or decomposed plant matter in any decayed state.  Despite that they can cause such a lot of damage to properties and gardens, they are very important animals because they form part of the ecosystem since they help recycle plant waste.  Here is a quick look at some of the foods they collect for food.

Termite culture

When termites hatch from their eggs, they do not have any bacteria in their guts that can help them break down food particles so they can absorb nutrients.  These animals have a very unique digestive system.  Their guts contain a microbial ecosystem that is transferred to them by other termites when they are fed on termite culture.  This process is known as trophallaxis and essentially involves feeding other termites on fluids (termite culture) that the workers secrete.  While they are feeding other termites these fluids, they will also groom each other.

Wood

Termites love to munch on wood and they are perfectly capable of consuming hardwood types.  These insects usually prefer softer wood because softwood is easier to break apart for consumption.  IN most cases, termites will feed on the down-facing side of wood because these shielded areas protect them from predators and allow them to soften up the wood so they can feed on the fibers.

Termites usually leave hardwoods alone if there is softwood available to them. But in harsh times they will also target dead hardwood by building clay structures up against the wood that they then use for sheltering and to soften up these hard parts of the wood.

Researchers have found that termites prefer maple wood to other wood types but other factors such as the wood hardness and moisture content can also affect their taste in wood types.

Fungus

Termites are especially fond of softwood types with lots of fungal growth.  Some termite species also practice fungi culture – a process in which termites nourish the fungal growths so they can consume the fungal spores that are produced by the fungi.

Dead plant matter

Termites eat all types of dead and decayed plant matter no matter how old and decayed this plant matter might be. They can consume any part of dead plant matter such as seeds, leaves, twigs, branches, bark, wood, roots, and more.

Paper and cardboard

These insects can consume any material that contains lots of cellulose.  Cellulose is an important particle found in the cell walls of plants.  This indigestible carbohydrate is found in lots of foods such as corn, Brussel sprouts, and many others.  Paper and cardboard are manufactured from wood but still contain cellulose particles which make this a good food source for these insects.

Drywall

Drywall is also manufactured from wood products as well as other materials. The cellulose on drywall is also a good food source for termites who are perfectly capable of digesting these hard materials.

Fabric

Lots of fabric is made of a cellulose product.  Cotton is a great example.  Since the biological structure of cotton stays the same even as these materials are transformed into clothing, these fabrics are also a good food source for termites.

Water

Termites also drink water and they can transport water to their feeding areas by transporting the water through their mouthparts to other termites.  A single termite can drink half of its body weight in a single trip to a water source.  This water is then used to soften up wood, build clay structures, nourish other termites, or as a personal water source to stay hydrated.

Diet Variations

Some people believe that termites can consume and digest plastic.  This is untrue.  These insects are unable to digest plastic but they will occasionally chew through plastic barriers such as PVC pipes so they can gain access to their food.

How to Feed Termites?

Termites are sometimes bread as supplementary food for pets like fish or lizards.  And in some cases, you might just want to feed termites to see how extensive your infestation is or to observe them in their natural environment.

To feed your pet termites, you can simply place the needed amount of food in their container and leave it there until the termites consume these foods.  Alternatively, you can lay a sheet of cardboard down on your ground.  Wait a day or two and slowly lift the side to see whether you have a termite infestation or to observe these insects as they consume the cardboard.

What Do Termites Eat In the Wild?

In the wild, termites will feed on just about any type of decayed plant matter they can find.  They are more common close to water sources since termites do drink water or use water to soften wood for easy consumption.  They will feed on wood, dead leaves, twigs, branches, plant roots, bark, and any other dead plant item they can find.

What Do Termites Eat in Captivity?

Termites in captivity or a termite farm can be offered any type of dead plant matter.  You can also supply them with lots of freshwater every day since they rely on water to help them break down hard or dry foods.

What do Baby Termites Eat?

Baby termites are called larvae.  Termite larvae do not feed on plant matter themselves. The worker bees feed the larvae on culture, a type of fluid that these worker termites secrete.  Termite larvae that get turned into kings or queens may continue to feed on this culture for the rest of their lives while others will start feeding on plant matter after metamorphosing into adults.

How Much Do Termites Eat?

Termites can eat surprisingly much.  A single termite will consume half its body weight in water when it visits a water source.  Some of the biggest termite colonies eat about a pound of wood per day.

How Often Do Termites Eat?

Since worker termites never sleep, they can actively consume food at any given time of the day or night.  These insects consume or collect wood 24 hours a day.  They are however more active during night time and as such prefer feeding after dusk.

Do Termites Bite?

These insects usually do not bother humans but they will bite if they feel threatened.  Their bites are not too painful and usually don’t leave any marks.  Termite bites are also harmless since they do not have any poisonous fangs.

Do Humans Eat Termites?

Some cultures consider termites a delicacy.  These insects are also used in traditional medicines.  Termites can be eaten raw but many do prefer to fry these insects before consuming them.

Are Termites Dangerous?

Large termite colonies can cause a lot of damage to crops and can even affect the economy if they cause too much devastation in agricultural produce farms.  Physically, they are not dangerous but their destructive diet can have a dangerous effect on those that rely on crop farms to survive.