Welcome to Scientific Mystery Monday!

In Australia where I live – termites are seen as not a good thing to have around as they can eat out the timbers in a house and cause a lot of damage. By God designed termites to serve many purposes and some of these are just being discovered by scientists. How termites start to build a nest is very interesting.Termites

The nest starts as a result of a scurrying of termites dropping little lumps of earth at random. Each lump is impregnated with a hormone which attracts other termites. By chance a few more lumps are deposited in one region than in the rest of the area. This attracts more termites to that region, depositing more lumps of earth, and the positive feedback produced soon snowballs the process until one of the large termite pillars has come into being, all as a result of the initial fluctuation in the random scurrying.


Giant Termite Mound

Here again what appears to be random motion is actually `limited' by the hormone for the purpose of ensuring that a nest is built. Without the hormone, the chances of the nest being built is very small and survival of the termite colony as we know it, would not continue.

With some genera the exact location of the nest, within the constrains of available water and food, is not important, thereby allowing the random scurrying to be performed initially over a large area, but none the less limited by ecological factors. However with the South African genus Odontotermes, the location is also constrained such that the termites form long low mounds known as `termite bands' which can be up to a kilometre long. It has recently been discovered that this termite activity is responsible for greatly increasing the fertility of the soil.

The behaviourial mechanism for producing such large regular patterns is at present unknown. However again, the constraint on the behaviour of termites to produce mounds which effectively regulate the ability of the soil to retain water and thereby enhance the growth of plants is another example of God’s little creatures fulfilling a purpose in nature (Sattaur, O. 1990, `Termites Change the Face of Africa', New Scientist, 29 September, p9. 1990).


Dr. John Ashton is Adjunct Professor of Biomedical Sciences at Victoria University, Melbourne, and Adjunct Professor of Applied Sciences at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) University. He served as editor of some of the most compelling books compiled on faith, origins issues, and science essays released in the past several years which include In Six Days and On the Seventh Day and Evolution Impossible. Dr. Ashton lives with his wife, Colleen, and their four children in Sydney, Australia.

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