A termite mound is a structure built by subterranean termites. Some of the most famous examples of termite mounds can be found in Africa, where they may tower 30 feet (nine meters) high over the landscape, contributing to the ecology of the area in addition to providing a home for termites. Less ambitious termite construction projects can be found all over the world, from rainforests to back yards. Termite mounds are fascinating from an engineering perspective, as they involve immense cooperation and ingenuity to build.
Not all termites are mound building. Those that do construct mounds make them in all shapes and sizes, ranging from small, soft mounds near the entrance to the nest to huge, ornate structures sometimes referred to as cathedral mounds. The mound is built with the use of soil and saliva from the termites, and the insects construct a complex network of corridors, rooms, and vents within the mound which facilitates social behavior.
The termite nest typically stretches underground beneath the mound. One of the key roles of a termite mound is in temperature control, with termites opening and closing vents to achieve a stable temperature. Mounds are also used to control humidity, with conditions which can be so stable that the humidity rarely varies by more than one percent. Furthermore, termitaria, as termite mounds are sometimes known, are also used as greenhouses by the resident termites. Termites breed synergistic fungi, using the fungi to break down biological material into a form which can be digested by the termites.
In nature, a termite mound can create habitat for other animals. Animals may settle in abandoned mounds, and mounds can also provide shelter for the seeds of trees and plants, allowing them to germinate and grow after the termites have left. Termite mounds are also of interest to humans, because they can be used by prospectors to look for indicator minerals. By analyzing the soils in a termite mound, a prospector can learn more about the underlying soil, and whether or not it contains substances which may be useful.
Depending on the species, it is sometimes possible to look at a termite mound and determine which species has constructed it. In other cases, it is necessary to look for members of the colony. Determining which species lives in a mound is important; people may be inclined to destroy termite mounds due to fears about destructive insects, but not all termites are destructive, and they can actually be beneficial for the environment in some cases.