In the northern part of Australia there is an unusual type of termite. The termites build mounds that look like cemetery headstones, some as tall as 15 feet high. They look unusual in that they are tall and thin, their flat sides facing east and west. The thin edges of the mound face north/south. While some other types of termites can build homes underground, the magnetic termite must build above ground due to periods of time when water covers the land.
“But why do they all face the same way?” I imagine that is what you would ask as we stand and look at the strange termite mounds. I did a little research so I could answer your inquiring minds. The needle of a compass is magnetic and points north due to the magnetic relationship to the earth. The termites’ mound points north as reliably as a magnetic compass needle. The two flat sides of the mound face east and west allowing maximal sun exposure to the mound throughout the day. The mound benefits from this relationship to the SUN. The termites are warmed by the sun on one side for half the day and on the other side the rest of the day. In this way the structure has a passive air-conditioning system. Watch this video to learn more about the air-conditioning and some other fun facts. (She speaks very fast so you may have to listen a couple of times but the content is worth it.)
HOW? How do the termites know to build their mounds like this? The termites, each and every one, have a sense of the earth’s magnetic field. It is important that they do or their mounds would not align correctly. Researches know this because they tried putting magnets around a termite mound and the termites abandoned the mound due to the abnormal magnetic fields. The termites have magnetite inside of them and they can use this to help them in discerning direction. (Watch and listen to this Australian show you a mound)
Please watch this video to learn a lot more about the magnetic termite. It explains the social structure of the termite colony. You will learn that the kids do almost ALL the work!
While learning about magnetite I began to have more questions. Do you? I wanted to know “Do other animals have magnetite and use it in some way?” and “Do humans have magnetite?” I wanted to know where magnetite comes from. I found those answers by doing a little hunting on the internet. If you have trouble finding out, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will share with you what I learned.