Termite – Chow Down

Music
Ambience termites feeding

Termites are not likely to win any popularity contest. But these insects do a lot more than chew up the wood frames of our homes. I’m Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Right now we’re listening to the sounds of termites.

“The current estimate for the number of termites on the planet ranges from about a pound of termite per person on earth to several hundred pounds of termite for every person on earth.”

Dr. Jared Leadbetter studies termites as an assistant professor of Environmental Microbiology at the California Institute of Technology.

“There are over 2,600 species of termite. Among these 2,600 termites, there is a great diversity of food sources. So, oftentimes, termites are known for being wood feeding. And certainly, in terms of their being pests, that’s what they’re most well-known for. But a huge number of termites will also feed on soil. So, in places in South America, in certain places in Africa, there are species of termite, which feed exclusively on what we call humus, carbon-rich soil. And if you were to look at their gut tract, it’s just filled from one end to the other end with soil. There are termites which feed on grasses; there are termites that feed on leaves. There are termites that feed on almost any wood they can get their hands on. So, you have a whole range of different lifestyles in these termites. Termites play very important roles in the turnover of plant material back into the elements. In turning over dead tree, dead plant material and basically clearing the table, so that you can have a renewal of new plant material.”

When termites recycle all that dead plant material, they produce carbon dioxide and methane, gases which contribute to global warming. But scientists think it may be possible to harness termite effluence as an energy source. We’ll hear more in future programs. Pulse of the Planet is made possible by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.

Termite - Chow Down

It isn't just wood termites are munching on.
Air Date:11/16/2009
Scientist:
Transcript:

Music
Ambience termites feeding

Termites are not likely to win any popularity contest. But these insects do a lot more than chew up the wood frames of our homes. I’m Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Right now we’re listening to the sounds of termites.

“The current estimate for the number of termites on the planet ranges from about a pound of termite per person on earth to several hundred pounds of termite for every person on earth.”

Dr. Jared Leadbetter studies termites as an assistant professor of Environmental Microbiology at the California Institute of Technology.

“There are over 2,600 species of termite. Among these 2,600 termites, there is a great diversity of food sources. So, oftentimes, termites are known for being wood feeding. And certainly, in terms of their being pests, that’s what they’re most well-known for. But a huge number of termites will also feed on soil. So, in places in South America, in certain places in Africa, there are species of termite, which feed exclusively on what we call humus, carbon-rich soil. And if you were to look at their gut tract, it’s just filled from one end to the other end with soil. There are termites which feed on grasses; there are termites that feed on leaves. There are termites that feed on almost any wood they can get their hands on. So, you have a whole range of different lifestyles in these termites. Termites play very important roles in the turnover of plant material back into the elements. In turning over dead tree, dead plant material and basically clearing the table, so that you can have a renewal of new plant material.”

When termites recycle all that dead plant material, they produce carbon dioxide and methane, gases which contribute to global warming. But scientists think it may be possible to harness termite effluence as an energy source. We’ll hear more in future programs. Pulse of the Planet is made possible by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.