The vast majority of termites use wood and humus as their primary source of food. In the Gauteng area, there are two species of grass consuming termites:
The Snouted harvester termite occurs mostly in open grassland areas or fields and builds a cone looking mound and when broken open, looks like a sponge. The Harvester termite would normally occur in and around the Greater Johannesburg area in residential properties.
The sponge-like mound which is produced by the Snouted harvester termite is a maze of passages and cells with grass normally stored in cells near the outer crust. The bottom of the mound extends about 30 cm into the ground and it is here that the queen, king and their brood reside.
The construction of the mound is intelligently designed in that it provides effective ventilation and a precise temperature for the larval termite’s growth and development. The outer crust of the nest provides effective protection and can also be used as an area where grass could be dried for consumption. The main reason why this termite is recognized as a grassland pest is that due to their high nest density in an area drastically reduces the available grass in the area to grow.
The nest structure of the harvester termite is completely different in that they never build surface mounds, but they nest in the soil. There are normally visible signs of soil mounds (loose soil) which can look similar to mounds created by moles. The soil dumps are composed of loose solid particles which have been excavated to form nests and connecting galleries. Harvester termites have several underground nests which are about 60 cm in diameter and interconnected and can more than 10 cm below the soil surface. The nest covers a large area underground and is not necessarily under a soil mound. The queen could be in any one of the nests and in younger colonies, she probably moves between nests.
It takes numerous years for the queen to become so large that she is no longer able to move, that is the reason why it is very difficult to reach the queen. During the night a column of Snouted termite workers leaves the nest guarded by several soldiers to collect dry grass. The workers are pale in colour and the soldiers have a reddish-yellow head. The soldiers have easily identified apart from the workers; they have a larger head region, but cannot bite. They have glands from which a colourless irritant fluid can be squirted as a sticky thread when the soldier is fighting off predators, including its most common predator; the Aardwolf.
Harvester termites are normally seen in the winter months when grass is dry and there is lower rainfall, they emerge from holes in the ground. The workers emerge from the nest holes and collect grass on the ground or chew a grass stalk to a length which can be carried. If the grass stems are particularly thick and there are several workers out collecting, they sound like a rodent gnawing.
Harvester termites prefer to collect dry grass, but they do collect Kikuyu grass. Open patches occur on a lawn and on closer inspection one may notice a sealed hole in the centre of the patch, this is an indication that harvester termites are present. This hole is the site from which the termites have emerged to forage. They rarely use the same hole to exit from and it is no indication that the nest is directly underneath.
The nest structure could be several meters away. These workers use the sunlight for navigation. On warm nights when there is a full moon or other available light these termites may emerge to forage. The workers are not accompanied by soldiers, but the soldiers do appear very quickly when danger occurs. The soldiers have large orange to yellow heads with large jaws for biting, using physical aggression rather than chemical defence.
The main differences between the two species of harvester termites are that the snouted termite (Trinervitermes trinervoides) has a conical shaped mound, soldiers which engage in chemical warfare and workers which are paler in colour and forage at night. The harvester termite (Hodotermes Mossamicus) is unusual in that the workers are pigmented, dark in colour and forage during the day in sunlight. The workers are large enough to be collected and eaten by certain African tribes. They are not mound builders. There have been no records of the snouted termite entering buildings, but the harvester termite has been known to enter buildings where the workers collected paper, curtain material and carpet underfelt for food. They do not damage woodwork.
View this short video tutorial highlighting the above procedure
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