Termite Soldiers
from the book, "Petrified Lightning"

Book: 
Petrified Lightning

Termite Soldiers

In the attempt to protect themselves, termites know that the best offense is a good defense. Their first, best defense is the safety of numbers, for a colony of termites can comprise as many as 10 million individuals. Another exceptional defense is their termitarium home, efficiently ventilated and air—conditioned to maintain a suitable temperature and humidity in all seasons. The nest is built of recycled materials such as pellets of soil, grains of sand, and particles of wood, all bound together by termite excreta and saliva. It has overhanging roofs to keep it rainproof and a formidable outer layer for protection. Only the claws of aardvarks and similar ant—eating specialists are able to break open a termite mound far enough to insert their long, slender, sticky tongues.

Another important termite defense is the soldier termites. Any colony has several castes of soldiers whose bodies are built specifically for defense. They are on duty at all times and defend to the death. The average soldier termite is easily identifiable by its distinctive body characteristics: oversized heads, powerful jaws, and usually black color.

Termite soldiers are specialists at fighting their archenemies, the ants. When an army of ants attacks the nest, they cut a hole in the wall of the termitarium. The termite soldiers immediately protect the breach and tear the invaders to pieces with their powerful jaws. They seal the hole temporarily by blocking it with the large head of a soldier. This often means the sacrificing soldier loses its head, but the invaders are denied access to the nest while the termites repair it permanently.

Several termite species have a unique, even more specialized, group of soldiers. They are called nasutes (which means having a large nose) because their foreheads extend into a nose—shaped point. When an invader breaks into the termitarium, the nasute soldiers gather at the threatened point. From the long beak a jet of fluid is expelled at the intruder. The secretion is not only toxic but also sticky. An insect enemy covered with it is rendered totally helpless.

Termite soldiers appear invincible with their built—in weapons, powerful jaws that can snap an ant in two, and effective armament. All of this is necessary because termites are no match for ants if the two face each other in open battle. Careful planning and extraordinary defenses of their nests are the keys to their survival.