The Hidden World of Termites
Before delving into the details of a typical termite colony, it will be useful to describe the environments they live in. Termites live on almost every continent, except in Polar Regions. Sudden rain storms and ensuing floods, high temperatures and other negative conditions make their life a struggle, no matter where they live. But despite all this, as we shall see, creatures that live in these regions live in perfect harmony with their environments—indeed, in cooperative comfort.
The termites that live in tropical regions build nests that resemble giant sandcastles and live in truly enormous colonies. When you examine their nests, you may assume that the inhabitants move about in chaotic darkness—but in fact, they live in a perfect social order. Termite cities are not only perfect from their architectural point of view, but also in terms of their social organization.
Visiting the tropics for the first time, you are sure to find unusual scenery and creatures you have never seen before. For example, in some remote areas of Africa, you will find formations that look like stalactites—natural formations of rock, emerging from the earth. But these rock-like formations are, in reality, hidden cities.
These miniaturized cities can reach a height of 4 to 5 meters (14 to 16 feet), and you may find several clustered in one place. They are actually termite nests, one of which can sometimes shelter more than a million inhabitants. Even a brief investigation will show the perfect organization that prevails in every single nest, no matter how enormous.
The nest’s structure allows it to adapt to constantly changing climactic conditions. Moreover, its organization enables it to be self-sufficient in supplying the inhabitants’ needs, so that they never need to bring things in from outside. Each nest features a perfect ventilation system, specific-purpose areas (separate rooms for the young, for maternity, for the queen’s room, and so on.) and agricultural zones that comprise parts of the termite colonies’ organization.
The social organization of individual termites in these cities is likewise excellent. The inhabitants are dedicated to their work and do their jobs speedily.
Even in termite colonies with millions of inhabitants, there is an established order, perfect in every aspect, that results from every member of the colony being meticulous in carrying out its duty. As with other creatures that live together, termites always help one another, providing excellent support in defense, communicating and finding nourishment.
Termite colonies contain three main castes or classes: there are soldiers, workers and a queen. The queen constantly lays eggs to increase the colony. The workers ceaselessly supply all the needs of the nest, and the soldiers protect the eggs from enemies and the nest as a whole from intruders. When necessary, all members of the colony share in the work of others, even though it is not their duty. But because of this communication and distribution of responsibilities, the number of termites in a nest can number more than one million, and still survive with no difficulty at all.
The following chapters detail the social organization of termite colonies and provide information about their habitat. But during this investigation, never forget that the creatures that perform all the tasks we’ll be discussing are no larger than a few centimeters (2.54 centimeters=1 inch).
From time to time, we’ll compare termites with human beings in order to demonstrate that termites’ comfortable life and amazing social organization is hardly something they could have created by themselves. We’ll provide various examples to invite your careful consideration. By “consideration,” we don’t mean a superficial glance, but to ponder upon the answers to the questions of why and how these creatures accomplish such extraordinary things and establish such a disciplined social life.
In the course of a day, many questions enter people’s minds, and they must ponder them to think of solutions. They may wonder about work, school, office or classmates, family and personal matters that concern everyone, about the characters in a film they saw, individuals they met on the street or events they read about in books or saw on television. They think about what to cook for dinner and what he had gone through in the past. But with all these things occupying their minds, people should think correctly and effectively. They must ask questions and think if they are to find answers. And so, the examples of termites given in this book and the questions they raise should urge you to think and consider. In many verses in the Qur’an, God stresses how important it is that people think about the creatures and events in their environment as evidence for faith:
Your God is One God. There is no god but Him, the All-Merciful, the Most Merciful. In the creation of the heavens and earth, and the alternation of the night and day, and the ships which sail the seas to people’s benefit, and the water which God sends down from the sky – by which He brings the earth to life when it was dead and scatters about in it creatures of every kind – and the varying direction of the winds, and the clouds subservient between heaven and earth, there are Signs for people who use their intellect. (Surat al-Baqara: 163-164)
Termites are just one species out of millions, from which thinking people can glean some important truths.