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What’s a “Magnetic Termite?”

“Magnetic termites” are nothing new, they’re just now making waves on an international scale. Australia has long been home to some of the weirdest, most interesting, most dangerous bugs on the planet, and the country has quite a few native termite species that deserve study in their own right. The Magnetic Termite is one of these species.

Uncommon in America, many rural termite species actually build massive mounds to live in, particularly in arid regions like African and Australia. These mounds can measure as high as 30-feet, depending on the species, and house tens of thousands of termites each. Think of them as the termite equivalent of a bee hive. 

Magnetic termites aren’t actually magnetic – despite the name – but they do appear to build their mound dwellings based on the magnetic fields of the earth. For years scientists have been baffled by exactly how the bugs interpret the earth’s magnetic fields so accurately, namely in Australia’s Northern Territory. The mounds (which number in the thousands) are arranged at an almost-perfect North/South alignment.

The architecture of termite mounds is very specific. To house so many bugs the mounds must be incredibly structurally sound and also offer proper ventilation as well as moisture reserves. The question is: why do Magnetic Termites orient their mounds this way?

The answer is actually pretty simple. Northern Australia gets extremely hot during the day and cool at night, and researchers believe termites have somehow harnessed the power of the earth’s magnetism to strategically climate-control their homes. They’re not sure how they do it or why this particular area is the only place in the world where termites have been shown to behave this way.

Thankfully for residents of Australia, Magnetic Termites (which look just like regular termite species) actually pose little threat to man-made structures or people, mostly because the population of Northern Australia is few and far between. Mound-dwelling termites prefer to eat trees, bark, and underground soil and water reserves in place of chowing down on homes and businesses.

In some remote stretches, as many as a hundred mounds can be seen at once. Magnetic Termites tend to build mounds that are no more than a few feet high that have been described as looking like tombstones. For any termite enthusiast, Australia is a fascinating place to take in some of the largest and most well-maintained mounds on the planet.

 

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