Scientific Name: Odontotermes species
Infra order: Isoptera
Tamil Name : Putru Karaian
Description: It is recognized by large earthy mounds. It has an ant like body with a white head. It is brown winged and moves in swarms during rainy season. It gets attracted by light. It is popularly known as white ants.
Distribution and status: Wooded habitats. Common. Termites can be found globally with the exception of Antarctica, but the diversity of termite species is low in North America and Europe, (10 species known in Europe and 50 in North America), but the diversity of termites in South America is currently over 400 species.
Habitat: Larger termite mounds play a role in providing a habitat for plants and animals, especially on plains in Africa that are flooded during rainy season providing a retreat above the water for smaller animals and birds, and a growing medium for woody shrubs with root systems that cannot withstand inundation for several weeks.
Habits: Like ants, and some bees and wasps — all of which are placed in the separate order Hymenoptera — termites are social insects; divide labor among castes, produce overlapping generations and take care of young collectively. Termites play a vital role in nature. They break down dead wood and other cellulose materials. This is helpful in the ecosystem and the balance of nature. At maturity, a primary queen has a great capacity to lay eggs. In some species, the mature queen has a greatly distended abdomen and may produce 20,000 to 30,000 eggs a day
Food: Termites are generally grouped according to their nesting and feeding habits. Therefore the commonly used general groupings are subterranean, soil-dwelling, drywood, dampwood, and grass-eating. Symbiotic protozoa (metamonads) such as Trichonympha, and other microbes in their guts digest the cellulose for them and absorb the end products for their own use. Gut protozoa rely on symbiotic bacteria embedded on their surfaces to produce some of the necessary digestive enzymes.
Role in the environment: Termites are consumed by many different cultures around the world, and in Africa, they are an important factor in the diets of native populations. Tribes have different methods and ways of collecting or cultivate insects, and sometimes tribes will collect soldiers from several species. Queens are harder to acquire, but queens are regarded as a delicacy if they are able to be collected. Termites are high in nutrition levels, due to the fact they have adequate levels of fat and protein and are also regarded as pleasant in taste, resembling a nutty like flavor after they are cooked.
Cultural value: Termite mounds are sacred in India. They are revered as symbols of fertility. There are even temples where the main idol is a termite mound. Attaching sacred values to termite mounds is considered as a traditional system of conserving this ecologically important organism.
Photo source: Dr.J. Subramanean