Covered in termites!
If the idea of a couple hundred thousand termites pouring out of a rotting stump distresses you, then read no further.
In May, I was scouting field sites in Miami, trying to find some good places for one of my anole experiments. In one park (A. D. Barnes Park), I encountered something completely unexpected: a mass emergence of termites. In a termite nest, most individuals are workers or soldiers, sexually immature individuals of both sexes that perform the everyday non-reproductive tasks for the colony. Every so often, however, a colony can produce huge numbers of winged, reproductive individuals of both sexes, called “alates.” These alates disperse from the parent colony, find mates, then quickly shed their wings and head underground to start colonies of their own.
Often, the alates emerge from the nest en masse, and the air can become filled with thousands of termites. This was exactly the situation I found in A. D. Barnes Park. A standing stump and several nearby fallen logs were completely covered in white-winged termite alates. The alates seethed and streamed off of the logs in staggering numbers; I didn’t make a careful estimate, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the total number of alates emerging was in the hundreds of thousands.
It was an amazing sight. The only camera I had with me was my Panasonic LX-3 point-and-shoot. Nevertheless, I captured some short video clips to document the spectacle. When I leaned in to the nest to capture some closeup footage, I came out covered in alates from head to toe!
Later, when I was looking over the video I’d shot, I remembered a song written by my friend Dan Warren that would accompany the footage perfectly. Fast-forward a few months, and I finally had the time to edit the footage together into this short piece, which I hope you enjoy.
I hope I witness a spectacle like this one again some day, ideally when I have a better video camera and a tripod handy!
To hear more of Dan’s music (and to read about his research), check out his website.