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Saturday, October 5, 2013

Aliens Invade Australia

Wed Oct 2    

I wonder if someone ought to tell Australians that their country has been invaded. I don’t think city people will sleep if they knew the extent to which the entire country has been taken over by aliens!
Cities, networks of roads, amazing dwellings have sprouted up all over the Outback and beyond. Millions, no billions of the invaders have taken over the country. Termites that is.
All over Australia we have seen termite mounds, thousands along the roads, into the bush. In the harshest areas where humans couldn’t hope to live, these creatures thrive.
At first we wondered what the red stone peaks were. Ant hills? But they were too point, too stony. Later we learned that these termite mounds only occur in Australia. I guess when the Dutch and Spanish explorers first spotted the continent, and turned up their noses at it, the termites grinned and said “We’ll take it!” Now they own the lot of it.
From small red mounds along the curb, to yellow towers of over 2 meters tall - termite mounds are everywhere. I even saw postcards of termite mounts. Really.
But they are amazing. Like ants and bees, termites have a queens, nymphs, workers, soldiers and alates. Each has its own job to do. The termite is only slightly larger than an ant, sometimes called ‘white ant’ because their skin is so thin it is nearly transparent. Such a vulnerable insect couldn’t live in this climate if it wasn’t for their amazing architectural skills. The mounts protect the queen, who lives near the bottom surrounded by soldiers. Near the top is the food storage. The mounts are completely water proof (important in monsoon season!), fire resistant, and insulated. The have aligned their homes north-south so that it receives the least amount of heat and one side is always in the shade. Scientists have figured out that these ‘magnetic’ termites sense north-south. They are blind so they can’t see where the sun is. The mounds are ventilated to prevent fungi and bacteria from spoiling their food. The colors of the mounds change, of course, as the soil changes. They range from gray to yellow to fiery red.
Even the style of architecture seems to change per region. I wonder if what the termites teach each other, changes subtly until a whole new style is achieved. In some areas the mounds are skinny and pointy, while lately we have seen much rounder, wider mounds that almost resemble upside-down strawberry pots. 
We can probably learn much for these amazing insects. For now, it’s the most abundant species we have seen. Australians have a wicked sense of humor. They have taken to dressing up the mounds. There’s no other form of entertainment when driving roads that are thousands of kilometers long with not much else in sight but termite mounds. So we see termite mounds along the road wearing t-shirts, aprons, hardhats, sunglasses, even frilly underwear. I don’t know how the termites feel about this, but it sure gives us something to look forward to.

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