How long have termites been around?
Entomologists, in accord with geologists, conjecture that the civilisation of the termite, commonly called the white ant--although it is of a very doubtful white-precedes by a hundred million years the appearance of man on our planet.
Over one hundred and fifty species have been identified embedded in fossil amber. Be the truth what it may, the termites certainly go back some million years, and this may satisfy everyone.
Their civilization, which is the earliest of any, is the most curious, the most complex, the most intelligent, and, in a sense, the most logical and best fitted to the difficulties of existence, which has ever appeared before our own on this globe. From several points of view this civilisation, although fierce, sinister and often repulsive, is superior to that of the bee, of the ant, and even of man himself.
The termite is not hymenopterous, like the bee or the ant. It is generally placed in the order of orthoptera, orthopteroid neuroptera, neuroptera, or pseudoneuroptera, of the division of Corrodentia. As a fact, it belongs to a separate class, the Isoptera. There are some entomologists who, because of its social instincts, would like to rank it amongst the hymenoptera.
Where does the termite live?
The big termite exclusively inhabits hot countries : the tropics or sub-tropical regions. In spite of its name (the termite is also known as the "white ant"), it is rarely white. It assumes rather, approximately, the colour of the earth it lives in. It varies in size, according to species, from three to ten or twelve millimetres. It is therefore sometimes as big as our small domestic bee.
Struggling for life
There are few creatures so poorly equipped by nature for the struggle for life. It has neither the sting of the bee nor the formidable breastplate of chitin covering the ant, its most relentless foe. As a rule, it has no wings; and if, by chance, it is endowed with them, they are loaned to it merely in mockery to lead it to the slaughter. Ponderous and devoid of all agility, it cannot escape danger by flight. Vulnerable as a worm, it falls a defenceless prey to every kind of bird, reptile and insect that craves for its succulent flesh. It can live only in equatorial regions, and yet - fatal contradiction - it perishes on exposure to the rays of the sun. It has an absolute need of moisture, yet is nearly always compelled to live in countries where for seven or eight months on end there is never a drop of rain.