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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Grass-eating termites


Have you ever come across a scene that has activated you to explore and confirm that termites can eat even grass in a field? I have. Earlier to this new experience I had seen termites on many unpredictable places, like a whitewashed wall, green living tree trunk, wood abandoned in the open and twigs stored for some future use. My mind remains filled with wonder and enquiry that how and why these tiny creatures choose such hard conditions for their living. To add further to the list of wonders about these insects in my mind, I came across a scene which appeared as if some one had spread powdered soil over patches of Cynodon dactylon or the Bermuda grass in the field near the Birsa Hockey stadium in the Morabadi ground of Ranchi.

Being all the time curious by nature I caught a twig and scrapped the soil after which I saw a number of termites. Soon I found a number of patches like that and observed that termite were there for eating away the grass. As temperature rises in summer, grass start drying in absence of water and the dried grass which remains rich in cellulosic matter becomes a preferred food item for termites. It was a new experience for me for the material of a particular species of grass Cynodon dactylon on which I have already done a number of studies related to its decay by different species of fungi.

For the succession of colonization of microorganisms on a plant it is reported (M.P.Mishra, 1996) that some type of injury on the plant body is always necessary. If colonization by microorganisms fails on the plant part, the process of cycling of matter will never stop as it will be continued by termites and other organisms. Thus termites play a very important role in decomposing grass materials in open fields and enriching the soil with nutrients for the next generation of the plant community. Also, these tiny insects aerate the soil by making holes in the earth.

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Termites are supposed to be known by every human being in the world. These have been living on and in the earth since the times of dinosaurs. These are a group of eusocial insects taxonomically classified in the order Isoptera.Like bees, wasps and ants which have been placed in the taxonomic order Hymenoptera, termites have a culture of dividing labour among  gender lines, producing overlapping generations and taking care of the young collectively. As of 1996, the total number of recognized species of termites is 2,800. Termites live in colonies and they can eat non-stop for whole 24 hours in a day. Thus they can cause damage worth two billion dollar per year. The total weight of all of the termites in the world has been predicted to be more than the weight of all the humans in the world.

Termites mostly feed on dead parts of plants which remain generally in the form of wood, leaf litter, soil, or animal dung, and about 10% of the estimated number of total termite species, are economically significant as pests that can cause serious structural damage to buildings, crops or plantation forests. Termites are major detritivores, particularly in the tropical and subtropical regions, and their recycling of wood and other plant matter is of considerable ecological importance.

Key Words : Termites,Eusocial,Isoptera, Cynodon dactylon, grass, bermuda grass,detritivores, economically significant, tropical, sub-tropical, recycling of wood, cellulose