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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Macrotermes Gilvus

Of the mound building termites in this locale, Macrotermes gilvus is the most common. The size of the nest mound varies with location probably due to availability of food.

There appear to be at least three subspecies in M. gilvus with one species typically having a larger size nest (matured) mount. In my personal encounters, based on just external macro appearances of the termites I have come across, I noted at least two, possibly three. There are two distinct nuptial swarm pattern of Macrotermes gilvus.

The most common is after a day of relatively heavy to heavy rain sometime soon after the beginning of the biannual main rainy season. The context of this is more the duration but also on the volume of rain. The swarming take place after it is dark commonly a few hours after it is completely dark. Very large swarms are released often timed while it is still raining lightly.

A second less common nuptial swarming type of what is probably a sub species is similar to that of Macroteremes malaccensis and Macrotermes carbonarius. All these are early evening swarmers swarming just as dusk begins to fall before darkness sets in. Swarming always invariably take place on a dry non rainy day. Also typical of these swarms the numbers of alates released are much smaller. Though these three species all release alates swarms during the late evening hours at last light, they swarms are rarely ever on the same evenings.


Though they appeared to have a preference for medium soft wood Macrotermes gilvus also takes dry leaves and other dry vegetation. Tree bark (of trunks and branches) are also preferred to the underlying wood by one of the subspecies. In areas where both fallen tree branches and trunk as well as leaves are found in abundance the nest of one subspecies may reached to over five feet high with a similar diameter.

Of the fungus growing species Macrotermes gilvus has one of the most advance and elaborate fungus comb structure comparable with those of Odontotermes which is the most species diverse of the fungus growers. Unlike fungus growing ants which feed only on the fungus, fungus growing termites feeds both on the mushroom heads as well as the growing media. This makes these termites both farmers as well as process food producers, a feat not exhibited by any other arthropods.

Even most termites soldiers and workers do not have eyes (or so called functional eyes) they are not necessarily totally blind. Despite their lack of eyes they are able to sense light. It could be that they are ultra sensitive to temperature but several non definitive experiments I conducted do not appear to support this.


Macrotermes gilvus workers dis-barking a fallen tree branch. Macrotermes gilvus termites are somewhat similar to Macrotermes carbonarius in their food pickings. They tend to favor barks, small twigs, dry leaves and grass. Of course they also take in other bulkier cellulose wood sources but not as extensively as Macrotermes malaccensis or the Odontotermes genus. They quite regularly foray in the open on the surface ground but mostly during times when the temperatures are lower and the air more humid. They seem to prefer softer wood than Macrotermes malaccensis and Odontotermes.

Below a closer look at a section of the photo above.

Retreating Macrotermes gilvus foraging party.

Macrotermes gilvus major soldiers.


A group of Macrotermes gilvus workers attacking a leaf.
A group of Macrotermes gilvus workers attacking a leaf.

A Macrotermes gilvus worker on a dry splinter of the bark of a small branch.
Macrotermes gilvus worker on a dry splinter of the bark of a small branch.

(Photo below) The royal chamber of Macrotermes gilvus after the second year. Nest mound of Macrotermes gilvus only appear after the third year (depending also on abundance of food).

(Photo below) Sealing the royal chamber in a larger container.
 

 
The nest and fungus combs completely sealed in.
Workers and Soldiers.
A major soldier, a minor soldier with a bunch of major workers of Macrotermes gilvus.

Right most are two Macrotermes gilvus minor workers.

Here the Macrotermes gilvus workers and soldiers are shown above a millimeter tape. The major workers typically measured 5 millimeters.

Here (below) the Macrotermes gilvus major soldier is measure at approximately 10 millimeters.


An alate minus its wings.


Major soldiers of Macrotermes gilvus (above and below).
Compared with those of Macrotermes carbonarius and Macrotermes malaccensis the mandibles of the major soldiers of Macrotermes gilvus are shorter. Though shorter they pack a more powerful cutting bite.
A Macrotermes gilvus major soldier turned turtle showing the soft vulnerable area connection the head with the thorax (above and below).

The Minor Soldier.
A minor soldier of Macrotermes gilvus (photo above and below).
The minor soldier.
The Major Worker.

The major worker.

The major worker.

The major worker.

The Nymph.


A worker nymph.

The Eggs and Nymphs.


A newly hatched nymph and some eggs. The smaller are newly laid and the larger about to hatch.

Some Macrotermes gilvus nymphs on a fungus comb. A millimeter measure beside it is for size indication. Here newly hatch nymphs (or larvae) are shown with one of their older siblings, a first instar nymph. Workers of Macrotermes gilvus go through three instar while soldiers go through two additional instar.

Minor and major soldiers nymphs of Macrotermes gilvus

A batch of Macrotermes gilvus eggs.

A nymph molting. Termites larvae or nymphs cannot successfully molt without assistance from the adults.

Macrotermes gilvus workers assisting a nymph (or larva) molting
Macrotermes gilvus workers assisting a nymph (or larva) molting.

A clutch of Macrotermes gilvus nymph (or larva) from newly hatched (smallest) to third instar (largest). Workers mature from the third instar nymphs and soldiers undergo a further two instar. Termites cannot successfully molt without the assistance of the workers.

Nymphs or larvae of Macrotermes gilvus of the various instar.

Common among some ants and termites, the eggs of a new queen have a slight honey color tint.

A batch of Macrotermes gilvus eggs
A batch of Macrotermes gilvus eggs.

The Reproductives.


An alate with one half of her wings drop off. Termites wings falls off quite easily when they are handled.

The female alate fanning her scent during the nuptial.

A dealated reproductive, this is a male. Length wise the Macroterme gilvus reproductive at 14 millimeters is slightly larger than those of Odontotermes longinathus the largest of the Odontotermes species which is at 12 millimeters.

The queen and king of Macrotermes gilvus
The queen and king of Macrotermes gilvus. The king is partially hidden behind the queen.
The gyne or queen of Macrotermes gilvus.
The gyne or queen of Macrotermes gilvus
The gyne or queen of Macrotermes gilvus.

The gyne or queen of Macrotermes gilvus
The gyne or queen of Macrotermes gilvus exposed in a half broken royal chamber.

The Fungus Garden.


A fungus comb of Macrotermes gilvus. Fungus comb of Macrotermes gilvus are typically very well formed compared to those of other fungus growing termites. The only other species with very well formed fungus comb is a small (actually the smallest in this locale) species of Odontotermes which because of the small size of the termites the fungus combs are very delicate and crumble easy when handled.

The view from the bottom of the fungus comb.

A large fungus comb of Macrotermes gilvus. Fungus comb of M. gilvus can be massive as large as almost almost three quarter of a soccer ball in size.

Close up of the fungus comb

Close-up of the fungus comb showing the larvae and workers packed inside.

A transparent plastic nest container of Macrotermes gilvus showing the fungus. Usually the workers will completely cover over any area of transparent containers that allow in light but kept in the dark these ‘expose’ area may be left uncovered over.

Macrotermes gilvus above ground forays usually take place during periods of low light. These forays are typically within close proximity to the underground tunnels' openings. Above photos shows a cluster of Macrotermes gilvus workers attacking a broken branch just outside their earthen tunnels. The photo below shows them attacking dry blades of grass.
Some Macrotermes gilvus workers gnawing the dried grass blades to carry home to form their fungus garden.

A feeding frenzy. Not a common occurance but occasionally Macrotermes gilvus workers will go on the closest thing to a feeding frenzy when a 'new' source of food is found. Termites prefer variety in their diet even though they are all cellulose based plant material,

While the workers get the food, the soldier manned the perimeters of the foraging party. Other workers worked speedily to bury the food source.

The entire perimeter is lined with minor soldiers. These are interestingly seldom more than one soldier deep. It is like they are saying, 'hey there is one borther in front, I better step forward beside him.'
In Macrotermes gilvus the major soldiers seems mostly to be reserved for nest defense while the minor soldiers defend the foragers. The interesting part is these soldiers sentries knows when it is time to retreat to the tunnels once the workers are done.

The nest mount of Macrotermes gilvus (above and below).

 A Macrotermes gilvus mount being extended (the darker colored clay are moist).
Close up of the extension works.

Macrotermes gilvus workers and soldiers foraging on some dried herbs right on a hot mid day under the shade of trees. 
Open foraging by Macrotermes gilvus is more common during hours of darkness but there are quite frequent occasion when they do forage even right at noon of a hot day. Typically this is done under shady conditions but not always so.

Their forage columns in such cases are never more a couple of meters and at the slightest of vibrations the entire column rushes back into the safety of the underground tunnels. 


A rare occurrence. This Macrotermes gilvus fungus garden was found inside a rotting fallen tree branch. The entire comb stretches over a foot buried inside the branch. There were workers and minor soldiers but no nymphs or eggs. There was no nest anywhere nearby. The comb was notably different in appearance and the white fungus heads are tiny. Is this the termites idea of a vacation home, a home away from home?
 Closer view showing the unusually compact comb with thicker wall and some workers hiding inside. Obvious these are meant as extra food stores and not meant to house the larvae (nymphs).


The Tandem Run.

 
All termites swarming is followed by a tandem run of the mating pairs until the female (the lead) decide on a suitable location for the founding nest. Then both male and female begin to quickly burrow into the ground of the selected location. In some species the male grip on tightly to the hindquarters (the posterior of the abdomen) of the female until she begins digging into her selected location for their founding nest.

The King and Queen.

A Macroterme gilvus pair in their young nest.

Typically in new nest the workers and soldiers are just a minature of those in mature nest.

A miniature soldier with a soldier nymph of new Macrotermes gilvus nest. First batch of soldiers and workers are typically much smaller compared to those of a more mature nest (typically a few months after the first batch of workers starts foraging)

At only 3 millimeter long the first soldiers of a new Macrotermes gilvus nest is just half the size (in terms of length) of a minor soldier of a mature nest.


A worker feeding the reproductive. The tiny morsel of chewed up wood beside the reproductive is probably the beginning of the fungus garden.



Seen here are clumps of chewed cellulose that is probably the start to a future fungus garden.

ssp2 of Macrotermes gilvus

Here a major worker from the first brood tending the beginnings of a fungus garden formed from chewed tissue paper. The colouration will darkened as the fungus comb aged.

Though the first brood of workers and soldiers are only a fraction of the size of a mature nest, morphological differentiation are already evidence among the workers. The first pre foraging brood of Macrotermes gilvus typically have two tiny soldiers accompanied by twelve to fifteen workers. Foraging starts from late into the third month and beyond. In exterme dry conditions the beginning of foraging can be very late.

Macrotermes gilvus ssp3


Alates of Macrotermes gilvus
The wings of the alates of this strain of M. gilvus show the most distinguishing feature. This strain or subspecies releases alates from late at night to before dawn after a day of heavy rain.

Alates of Macrotermes gilvus
Alates of Macrotermes gilvus.

Alates of Macrotermes gilvus
Alates of Macrotermes gilvus.

Soldiers and workers of Macrotermes gilvus
Soldiers and workers of Macrotermes gilvus. The major soldier is quite large at close to 11 millimeters,
Soldiers and workers of Macrotermes gilvus
Soldiers and workers of Macrotermes gilvus. The major soldier is quite large at close to 11 millimeters,

Major soldier of Macrotermes gilvus
Major soldier of Macrotermes gilvus.

Nymph of a reproductive
Nymph of a reproductive.



Mushroom of Macrotermes gilvus fungus

Mushroom of Macrotermes gilvus fungus

Mushroom of Macrotermes gilvus fungus

Mushroom of Macrotermes gilvus fungus.


Taxonomy
Family – Termitidae 46569
Subfamily – Macrotermitinae 62955
Genus – Macrotermes 46572
Species – gilvus


Last Updated: 2015 11 07
First Posted: 2009 10 22
© 2009 – 2015 by Quah. All rights reserved.

4 comments:

  1. H. Lehmann-DanzingerMay 20, 2011 at 3:57 AM

    excelent phtotographs allowing differentiation of the castes

    ReplyDelete
  2. The new pictures of foraging termites and their nests are an excellent addition. It's refreshing especially since most of your photos are close-ups of termites inside glasses. I'm curious as to why you haven't posted much on pics of other termite nests. Some termitinae nests are really interesting like that of Dicuspiditermes, Neocapritermes and some nests with conical projections or spikes. Speaking of dicuspiditermes, haven't come across them? To the best of my knowledge they're a bit common in Malaysia.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Very nice pictures! I collected some couples of Macrotermes gilvus in Thailand, do you have any advice on keeping them? I see you keep them in a container with cotton? How much time for the first worker to emerge? What temperature are you keeping them?

    thank you! :)

    ReplyDelete
  4. Very informative documentation, it is also a dominant species here in the Philippines as well. Thank you

    ReplyDelete

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