Harvester Termites

The harvester termites (from Greek ὁδός (hodós), traveling; Latin termes, woodworm) are an ancient, Old World family of termites, the Hodotermitidae.

 They are distinguished by the serrated inner edge of their mandibles, and their functional compound eyes which are present in all castes.

 They forage for grass at night and during daylight hours, and pigmented workers are often observed outside the nest. 

Their range includes the deserts and savannas of Africa, the Middle East, and Southwest Asia. Their English name refers to their habit of collecting grass, which is not unique to the family, though 

 

They nest by excavating in the soil. The hives may be more than 6 m deep.

The hives are 60 cm wide and are interconnected by galleries. Loose particles of excavated soil are brought to the surface and dumped at various points around the nest.

Colonies produce initially small, conical mounds on soil with sufficient clay content. 

The workers collect mostly woody material. On the contrary, the diet of Harvester Termite consists primarily of ripe and/or frost- or drought-killed grass, though tree and shrub material is consumed to a lesser degree.

In a stable isotope study of Harvester Termites, the grass component was found to constitute upwards of 94% of their food intake.

 

They can deplete grass in pastures and contribute to soil erosion but are less effective when grasslands are not overgrazed or disturbed. 

Over the long term, however, their decomposing and recycling of plant material contribute to soil fertility and the global cycling of carbon, nitrogen, and other elements.

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