How Termites Masticate & Break Down Wood

Since termites eat wood, they have a bad reputation with most homeowners. In fact, in nature, termites are beneficial. They recycle fallen trees, decaying stumps, and even dead grass.

Termites get their nutrition from cellulose. Cellulose is the substance that wood and grass are made of. It is one of the most common substances on earth. It is also one of the most durable substances on earth.

Many animals eat grass and other plants. They often have trouble digesting the cellulose. Cows, goats, and many other animals chew grass for a long time in order to digest it.

There is an enzyme that breaks down cellulose. The enzyme is called cellulose. Some fungi and some
one–celled animals called protozoans produce this enzyme.

For many years, scientists have studied the way termites masticate and break down wood. The scientists have found that termites have protozoans inside their digestive system. The scientists have also observed that termites often eat wood that is also being attacked by fungi.

A few termites, members of the family Termitidae, may be able to produce the cellulase enzyme. However, these termites also have protozoans in their digestive system.

Scientists have learned that newly hatched termites receive protozoans from older workers. Scientists think that the immature termites must replace the protozoans in their digestive system each time they shed their skin.

Scientists believe that the protozoans actually break down the cellulose into sugar inside the bodies of the
termites. The termites receive their nutrition from the cellulose after the protozoans have digested it.

After the cellulose has been broken down to sugar, the termite workers can also share it with the termites that cannot feed themselves, the immature termites, the soldiers and the reproductives. They share food by a mouth–to–mouth process called trophallaxis.

Scientists are still studying the relationship between fungi, cellulose, and termites. Some scientists suspect that termites create a humid environment inside the wood and cause fungi to grow. Other scientists suspect that termites are attracted to wood that has already been attacked by fungi.

Scientists continue to study the way termites masticate and break down wood, As they learn more about this process, they think they will be able to control termites more effectively.