Thursday, April 21, 2011

Busy insects

These structures popped up overnight in an outdoor hallway of the bio sciences building.

They're chimneys of mud, made by soil termites. It's supposed to be a sign of rain, or of spring, or of bored termites (depending upon who you ask). Here's another view.
They're not very tall, maybe six or seven centimeters, but I was still impressed. The nearest exposed soil is a long way away, and I would not have expected that a wee beastie would be able to find a space in the seam between a concrete path and a wall. But nature will find a way, and it seems that the smaller the beastie, the greater the patience. (what's that, Opal?--Oh, Pomeranians excluded!) A close-up shows the construction of these termite towers of Babel--not baked brick, but little pellets of mud, chewed and regurgitated and cemented in place by termites.
I wasn't able to get a good picture of the builders. They would climb up only far enough to wave their antennae at me, then disappear before I could get a picture. I spent five minutes crouched awkwardly in a narrow hallway outside of a building full of scientists, and a half dozen people squeezed by me. Only one of these people (who I would hope are curious by profession) stopped even briefly to look at what I was doing. He got down to look at them too, and was delighted and impressed. I think that's the right response, and I dearly hope that my students would pass that test.

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