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Subterranean Termite Colony – 100 Feet Underground!

June 24, 2010

It’s true.

I was invited to check out some mud tubes inside a tunnel system that went into the side of a mountain.  As I was looking at the mud tubes, I had this weird feeling, kind of an existential epiphany, that I was also a termite in an earthen tube – it was a little freaky. 

Unfortunately I couldn’t take any pictures of the actual tunnel we were in, but I was able to get some pics of the termite tubes:

Anyway, I wonder what the record is for the depth that a termite colony has been found underground? The spot where the mud tubes were located was indeed about 1oo ft below the surface of the ridge, but it was unclear exactly how the termites got there. A pair of alates could have easily entered the tunnels, just as we did, from the side of the ridge, and founded the colony.  However, the colony was located all the way up at the end of one of the side tunnels, so it seems a little weird that they would have chosen that spot as opposed to other locations closer to the entrance. Another possibility is that that the termites are colonizing the space between rock and the cement that lines the tunnels. It is possible that back in the day the builders used wood forms before applying the concrete, and those forms have provided food for the termites. Perhaps the termites are using the concrete tunnel lining as a giant guide, and where we see the mud tubes is just one small area where the termites have been able to penetrate into the inside of the tunnel.  I guess there is also the possibility they came down, through the ground, from the top of the ridge, but in the absence of some kind of guide like a ventilation pipe, I doubt they would tunnel down that deep. I don’t think there are any penetrations to the surface from that spot. 

Whatever the case, it was a cool experience.

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