Encrusting Termites

Gnathamitermes perplexus

Gnathamitermes photo © by Michael Plagens

These encrusted twigs were found near Reach 11 in Phoenix, Arizona Oct. 22, 2005. The photo is also hosted at Wikimedia where there are more photos of termites and termite mounds: Termite pictures on Wikimedia.

Encrusting termites are very active in the Sonoran Desert and their tunnel-galleries can be easily found especially after periods of rainfall have resulted moist soil conditions. Once covered with soil stuck together with saliva the worker termites then scrape away the twig inside leaving hollow tubes of mud. These termites cannot tunnel into sound wood of buildings; other species such as the subterranean termites do invade homes, but do not build these characteristic encrustings.

These termites are quite beneficial in a number of ways. First they remove dry twigs that could be a fire hazard thus decreasing the intensity and frequency of desert wild fires. They even remove unsightly cattle dung. Second, within the guts of the termites are protozoans and nitrogen-fixing bacteria, thus there activities fertilize the soil. Finally the tunnels help aerate the soil and permit good penetration by rainfall.

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Copyright Michael J. Plagens, page created 29 Oct. 2005,
updated 25 Feb. 2021.