Wednesday, June 8, 2011


Northern Australia has millions of termite mounds.  We first started noticing them near Coral Bay and have regularly seen them since.  In Litchfield, the termite mounds took on a whole new dimension with many aligned along the polar axis giving them the name "Magnetic Mounds."

Termites have a complex social structure with both a king and a queen.  Unlike ants, termite mounds may have more than one mating pair.  Recently, termites were found to be more related to cockroaches than ants and their scientific classification was adjusted.  Termites in northern Australia may live to 40-50 years.

Termites build mounds as a mechanism for thermoregulation.  Termites require a very narrow range of temperature and the mounds change the air currents resulting in a cooler interior.  The magnetic mounds serve a similar purpose by presenting the smallest amount of mound surface area to the sun. 

In Australia, termites feed on spinifex grass.  Spinifex is a tough grass that few other animals can tolerate.  Ecologically, termites play an important role in recycling nutrients and creating habitats.  Many bird species nest in holes in the termite mounds and animals use tree cavities created by termites.  Aborigines use termite-hollowed logs to create didgeridoos.  Some biologists suggest that termites have the ecological niche in Australia similar to the large herbivore herds in Africa.

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