Apicotermitinae

The Apicotermitinae are subterranean termites. They are a sub-family of the familyTermitidae. The sub-family Apicotermitinae contains 44 genera and more than 200 species of termites.

Like the other termites, Apicotermitinae eat cellulose. They feed in the soil as many other types of termites do. Scientists refer to this type of termites as “soil-feeders”.

The Apicotermitinae are interesting to scientists for several reasons. Colonies of these termites do not have soldiers. The workers of many species defend the colonies. Many of them do this by a process called Autothysis.

The workers of Grigiotermes and Ruptitermes are examples of termites that use autothysis to defend the colony. These worker termites have special glands inside their bodies. When there is danger, the workers can squeeze these glands until they burst. When the gland bursts, the worker’s body explodes, spraying a sticky substance. This sticky substance blocks the entrance to the termite nest very effectively.

Apicotermitinae are known for making unique nests. Each species make a slightly different type of nest. Scientists have identified new species by their nest construction.

Many of the nests have mounds that are above the ground. There are often small perforations in the walls of the mound to allow air to enter and gas to escape. Scientists think that the habit of making these perforations evolved in rainforest habitats. When the rainforests began to grow smaller, some colonies of the termites found themselves living on the savanna. In that environment, the perforations may not have been necessary, and some species discontinued making them.

Many species make spiral galleries inside the nest. Scientists believe that these spiral galleries also evolved when the termites lived in the rainforests.  They suspect that this may be a way to prevent groundwater from flooding the nest.

Scientists study these termites to learn how animals develop systems of behavior. The scientists are trying to find out how the termites developed the system of nest building.