Species Saturday

Species Saturday #23: What do you eat at a teddy bears’ picnic? Termites!

 What do you eat at a teddy bears’ picnic?
Well, one of the staple foods that the sun bears we’ve recently been doing some research on are the termites that live in the forest. Sun bears’ long tongue and sharp claws are adapted for reaching into termite mounds, one of their primary food sources. They also act as a key food source for another of our primary species, the orangutans.
More than a food source
After last week’s look at the amazing ants which live in the forest, it’s important to remember that termites aren’t just fodder for other creatures. Like the ants, these creatures play an important role in forest ecology. They feed on vegetation and organic matter, meaning their role in recycling dead matter in the forest is very important. They feed on wood, leaf litter, soil and animal dung.
Unsurprisingly, termite nests are made from many of the same materials. Nests are usually built below ground, within dead or fallen trees or even on living trees. And once again we can turn to David Attenborough for an explanation of the amazing cooling abilities of termites and their nests in hot climates.

Termite colonies are also extremely highly hierarchical (or eusocial), with different roles being performed by different individuals. The care of young is a shared, collective responsibility. There are usually workers, soldiers and reproductive individuals. And a termite colony can range from several hundred to several million individuals and the colony queen can lay up to 30,000 eggs per day.
Worker termites will forage and gather food as well as taking care of brooding responsibilities, while soldier termites are adapted to defend the nest against attack. Here’s a picture of a soldier termite, with its adaptations for defending the colony, such as its enlarged jaw, clearly visible.
Very often some species are referred to merely as the food source for another. But it’s important to remember that each species has its own important and fascinating role and traits, even if it is a prey species.