Because termites largely populate quite dry, inhospitable regions, adaptation to deal with the little water available has been essential for them to succeed as colonists of these marginal areas.
Check out the maths update to find out why termites are so susceptible to water loss, and how artificially raising the humidity inside their mounds helps to overcome this problem.
Some termites can also create water in their mounds by CONDENSATION. Coptotermes brunneus, found in the northwest of Australia, builds huge 2m high mounds sealed on the outside with impermeable clay. The upper sections consist of bulbous cavities connected by vertical tunnels to live-in chambers underground. Metabolic water from these chambers will rise as water vapour to the top of the mound and condense back into water once exposed to the outer layer which is quite susceptible to temperature change during the nights (in desert regions the temperature can drop by 12 degrees Celcius). This water will then drain into the base of the upper cavities ready to be collected by the termites.
Suggested learning activities: think of an experiment that demonstrates the process of CONDENSATION that occurs inside the mound of the Coptotermes brunneus termite. Suggested examples are:
- tying a plastic bag around a leafy branch overnight and seeing how much water is collected.
- blowing onto a glass or mirrored surface (the colder the better)