Litchfield Termite Mounds

TermiteMoundsOne of the first attractions you encounter when you visit Litchfield National Park in the NorthernTerritory from the direction of the town of Batchelor is a sign directing you to termite mounds.

I realise that termite mounds may not sound like much of an attraction, but these are seriously big mounds, called cathedral mounds, and nearby by are other types of mounds called Magnetic or Meridian mounds, because they always face in a north south direction.

These mounds are constructed by different types of termites, but the one thing that they each have in common is that they each live in well organised societies and, in terms of population, they are as large as human cities.

These termites in Litchfield are not the type of termites which each the wood in your house, as they tend to eat plant litter, thus keeping the bush relatively clean.

Technically, they are called detritivores, consumers of detritus, and are considered to be ecologically important.

Their societies are divided up into different castes, which each type of caste having a particular role within the mound. Some are builders,which either add to or maintain the mound, others are soldiers, whose job it is to protect the mound, others are careers, whose role is to care for the young, and the mounds are also multi-generational so that the tasks are taught and passed down by the older generations.

Each colony has a queen and a king. It is the queen’s job to produce young, and some can produce up to 30,000 eggs per day, and it is the king’s job to mate with the queen,a job he holds for the the queen’s lifespan,which can extend to 45 years.

Some of the cathedral mounds on display at Litchfield are up to five metres in height and are very impressive. The reason for the great height is to keep the inhabitants dry during the wet season when the ground is underwater for long periods, and is prone to flooding.

The magnetic mounds are so positioned because it gives them natural air conditioning.

They are far better builders than humans as the termite mounds operate as peaceful, well organised, efficient cities which, if built by humans would soar into the atmosphere for many kilometres, and would be naturally comfortable.

When you first look at the Litchfield termite mounds, they may look like large dry sand castles but when you consider the functions and societal demands of the mounds you do realise what brilliant pieces of architecture they really are.

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