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Though small, termites play a critical role in our ecosystem. They may not be a homeowner’s favorite species of insects because of their love for wood. However, without termites, life wouldn’t be as we know it. You may have heard that termites are good for the soil because they are decomposers. If you have never taken a keen interest in these insects, you may not be familiar with what termites decompose and how they even decompose.
In this post, we will be addressing these issues and evaluating whether termites are good decomposers. So keep reading!
Are Termites Considered Decomposers, Scavengers, Or Detritivores?
Before we look at anything else, it’s imperative that we define what decomposers are. Decomposers refer to a group of animals that feed on dead things. This may be wood, feces, and animal carcasses. They are nature’s cleanup guys, and they do a terrific job!
Without decomposers, there would be piles of dead animals, insects, feces, leaves, and anything else that nature releases into the environment. Despite cleaning up, decomposers also return nutrients to the soil for reabsorption. There are different types of decomposers. Some feed on one dead organism. Others have no limit and feed on anything they can come across.
Scavengers and detritivores are sub-categories of decomposers. Scavengers are animals that feed on dead animals, such as hyenas, wolves, and bears. Detritivores, on the other hand, are invertebrate decomposers. Invertebrates are animals that don’t have a vertebral column or spine.
In general, termites are considered decomposers. And since they don’t have a spine, the correct scientific term is detritivores. Termites aren’t the only detritivores that feed on dead things. They are in the same category as millipedes and earthworms. But let’s focus on termites because they are our main focus of discussion.
Termites have a bad reputation for feeding on the wood used to build homes. But are they good decomposers or detritivores?
You might be surprised to find out that termites are excellent decomposers. In the forest, these bugs feed on dead plants and return nutrients back to the soil. They are the reasons why our forests can regrow naturally without intervention.
Termites are the leading decomposers of trees and other plants. There isn’t a single insect or animal that can decompose plants as fast and effectively as termites can. Without these tiny insects in the ecosystem, forests would have piles of trees and plants, which would suffocate other plants. Also, the amount of nutrients in the soil would be depleted.
What Do Termites Decompose?
Decomposers specialize in different types of organisms. As for termites, their area of specialization is dead trees, specifically wood. You will find termite nests underground, especially below dead trees, stumps, or wooden structures. They position their nests strategically close to food sources, which are dead trees. As termites tunnel from the nests to dead wood, they aerate the soil, and this is great for agriculture.
There are different types of termites, which depends on location. However, most species decompose wood in the soil. The reason behind that is to prevent drying out. This is why you will find tubes in the ground, linking the nest to wood when you visit the forest. Termites have an affinity for decomposing rotting tree stumps and damp wood. Basically, termites decompose wood, no matter if it’s damp, rotting, or dead. There are also other types of termites that feed on livestock dung, dead leaves, and grass.
Therefore, dead wood isn’t the only source of food for them. Without termites, our forests would have piles of dead trees, which would have interfered with the growth of others. As much as a termite infestation in your home can result in costly damage to the wooden structures, their role in nature’s ecosystem can’t be overlooked.
How Do Termites Decompose?
The process of how termites decompose wood is quite interesting. On their own, they are unable to break down plant fibers. However, termites contain symbiotic protozoa and bacteria in their bodies that help with decomposing dead trees. These protozoa break down cellulose into digestible sugar that these insects absorb.
During the decomposition of dead wood in the guts, termites release nitrogen and carbon, which is also ideal for growing trees and the environment.
Protozoa, on its own, is a decomposing agent. However, in this case, protozoa form a symbiotic bond with termites. This is just one of nature’s miracles. It’s important to mention that termites aren’t born with protozoa in their stomach. Newborn termites source protozoa from the feces of older termites. Therefore, termites don’t just decompose wood. They feed on their feces as well. And the cycle keeps on going.
Termites pose a year-round threat in California, making termite control a big concern for home and business owners. Far from being just an annoyance, these pests can cause serious harm to your wooden structures.
The professional technicians at Chem Free Exterminating in Orange County, CA, can address an existing issue and also offer a customized, comprehensive solution to protect your property against future infestations. For more information on our termite control services, call us today!