Termites: The Inner Sanctum




from the outside,

and from the inside.

More than 2,000 species of them.







You'll see their enemies,

and their end,

and you will penetrate

to their secret center.

In the east African savanna,

termite hills are nothing special,

unless you've never seen inside before,

seen their sunless secret lives,

and the scale of their citadels.

Eyeless, teeming insects.

And yet, it seems, to know them,

is to love them,

especially when you

understand the roles they play

in the functioning of our planet.

Studying termites can be frustrating.

They're not the most

cooperative of beasts.

They do their own thing.

But these two veteran scientists

are about to share a profound insight,

a glimpse into the

termite's inner sanctum,

a secret that has resisted

all investigation.

A comfortable retirement

should have rewarded

biologists Joanna Darlington

and Reinhard Leuthold,

but when you're as dedicated

to termites as they are,

you can't retire while

there's so much to learn.

Cannot never be absolutely sure.

Yes, you can be absolutely

sure it's a building,

but you can't be absolutely

sure that they're dead.

And if they're dead...

They disagree on details,

but they know these ancient insects

are key players in

habitats across the world.

In this ecosystem,

they are the main agents

for the breakdown of dead vegetation.

The soil is baked by the sun,

and things like bacteria and fungi

can't live near the surface at all.

Termites help this arid land bear fruit,

but often, there's no

visible sign of them.

It's hard to study them,

because they don't like being exposed,

so a lot of my work is reconstructive.

Termite research is like archaeology,

excavating buried cities,

drawing conclusions from the

evidence of abandoned sites.

Open up a termite mound,

and the termites disappear

deep underground as though

they'd never been there,

but there's one group of termites

that has nowhere to go,

because they can't move,

and the challenge is to observe them

without destroying their home,

the inner sanctum,

the queen's chamber.

So, this is the queen's home.

The queen,

huge, super productive,

mother of every individual

in a city numbering 1,000,000,

together forming a

single super-organism.

Immediately, her attendants scurry

to wall up the opening Joanna has made.

The sudden changes in

temperature, humidity,

and brightness, have

sent them into a panic,

but it's an orderly one.

Her workers have plenty of water ready

to produce instant cement,

even in this dry place.

Soldiers' powerful jaws

guard the shrinking gap,

ready to repel intruders.

For a few seconds, the researchers

have glimpsed the heart of

a termite super-organism,

or rather, it's womb,

the very source of a colony's life.

In many countries, termites are feared,

hated, and hunted down.

They can be a few centimeters away

and you'd never know,

unless you call in the professionals.

Got a little bit more activity here.

We got some drywood termite,

some pellets right there.

To crawl under the house

and squeeze into impossible corners.

There they are.

We have to treat this beam here.

It's the same indoors.

Cut that beam open,

and you're in for a shock.

Wonder if we could get the whole beam.

To these critters,

your house isn't a home,

it's and all-you-can-eat diner.

They'll take everything they can get.

What are termites?

Some folks call them white ants.

They couldn't be more wrong.

Ants have been around

as long as termites,

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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