The food of termites is mainly cellulose. It is the most plentiful organic compound found in nature and also the main building block of plants.
Termites feed on various materials that have cellulose in them such as wood, grass, leaves, humus, manure of herbivorous animals, etc.
Cellulose digestion is no easy task so how do termites do it? Let’s find it out.
In-Depth Knowledge of Termites’ diet
The cellulose materials termites seek are as follows:
- Sheetrock paper
- Animal feces
As we have discussed, the digestion of cellulose is not an easy task. Even large animals like cows and goats have difficulty digesting them. The reason why they chew grass for long periods is so that the cellulose in it can easily be digested.
If digestion is not easy, why do they prefer it? The answer is very simple, not every species can break down cellulose so they avoid eating it. Because of this avoidance, termites easily get cellulose.
But how do termites manage to digest it? Well, they have protozoa and bacteria present in them to break down cellulose fibers into the wood, turning them into a nutritious meal.
Diet of Drywood Termites
These termites look for dry wood such as wood in structural timbers, hardwood floors, furniture, and home framing. They get their water directly from the wood in which they inhabit thus they do not make contact with the soil. The damage caused by Drywood termites eating wood looks smooth.
Diet of Subterranean Termites
They like to eat the soft fibers of springwood and leave the harder summerwood behind. Their eating pattern of wood resembles a honeycomb and its galleries contain dirt and fecal particles. They infest wood that is decaying or in contact with the source of moisture.
Food Finding Habits
Their food-finding habits are mainly based on their thinking. They go where they think wood should be, not knowing where it is exactly.
Their strategy looks like this:
- Cellulose is present abundantly above and below the ground so digging tunnels in the soil will help them get their diet.
- They locate food sources by following rocks, tree roots, cracks, or gaps in the soil.
- They follow the scent of fungi associated with food. These microorganisms attack and break down wood, so it is very likely to find termites where there are fungi.
- The colony sends a large number of workers in search of food. In case of an attack, they leave a trail behind so that the new workers could easily find the food.
It is not easy for insects to eat and digest wood, plant matter, and fungi but termites manage. Their special mandibles allow them to tear food and start consuming it quickly and efficiently.
Their strong mouthparts help them chew food rapidly and swallow them. Then their special gut biome breaks down cellulose into usable energy.
Interestingly not all termites are capable of breaking down cellulose. The other termites feed them their meal. This process is known as trophallaxis. The feeding methods include mouth-to-mouth or anus-to-mouth.
Termites grow fungi in a fungus comb and allow them to mature with their mounds. They then consume fungi and use their enzymes to improve their digestive capabilities, which help them in breaking down cellulose.
One thing we should remember about termites’ diets is that they will always feast on cellulose and decaying wood. Anything that has cellulose in it will be a target of termites. This includes nearly every type of wood, especially those which swell with moisture.
By knowing what attracts termites, we can take necessary steps and prevent our houses from their infestation. We hope this article helped you a bit in this matter. Thanks for reading!