In the nuptial flight that took place in the Zoological Garden during the second week of October, the air was filled with tens of thousands of winged termites, evidence of the large biomass of these social insects that unwittingly share the Zoological Garden with us.

The stump of the coral tree near the entrance path draws termite attention mainly because of the large cavity in its center and the peripheral root system that stems from it, partly exposed on the ground. A large population of wood termites of the species Kalotermes phoeniciae has developed in these roots. This species of wood termite was first described only a year ago as a new species, distributed in Cyprus, Lebanon and Israel. Along the coastal plain of Israel it lives mainly in carob and Tamarix aphylla trees, but is also known as a pest in avocado, persimmon and mango orchards, as well as being found in houses, mainly in door and window frames. In the lower photo: Workers and winged termites of the species Kalotermes phoeniciae collected in the Zoological Garden.
Another species of termite whose winged individuals have been flying abundantly in the Zoological Garden lately is Eremotermes arctus, whose biology still remains to be studied. Indeed, the first world discovery of a soldier of this species was by Alex Shlagman in our Zoological Garden.
The termites that inhabit most of the trees in our garden are usually hidden from sight, but their ecological contribution is high: they contribute to breaking up dead vegetal matter and to the return of minerals to the soil; their underground tunnel systems improve air and water flow in the ground; and they serve as food for other groups of animals.
The stump of the coral tree has gradually hollowed out as a consequence of the activity of termites, tree-dwelling beetles and fungus. It has become the habitat of various invertebrates and small mammals that find shelter in its cavities, and as a result enhances the biological diversity in the garden.

We thank Dr Dani Simon, from the Zoology Department, for the information on the termites.

Photo: Dany Simon