Prospecting with Termites

Some soil building termites construct tall mounds on top of deep underground passages to thermoregulate their colonies. Particles of soil from deep underground may be placed in the termite mounds. The termites dig down until they reach the water table, or their colony will die. This leads the termites to depths of tens of meters and often to the bedrock. Termites will take some of the hardest pieces to the surface. This feature has sparked recent interest in “termite mining”.

A number of companies will take samples from termite mounds to learn more about the metals that are in the soil underneath the mounds. Sampling from termite mounds is far easier and cheaper than sampling by drilling deep underground. An added advantage is that termites bring soil to the surface a few particles at a time. The above ground mound reflects a large number of very small samples of soil from many locations underground. Prospecting termite mounds has become so important, it has spawned its own discipline, “Geozoology”.

Sampling the termite mounds allows companies to focus their claims and further testing based on knowledge of the underlying minerals. This saves time and money. Prospecting in termite mounds is used in Western Australia and parts of Africa. A Canadian company, North Atlantic Nickel has mapped hundreds of square miles in Mali using termite mound sampling. Termite mound sampling helped them recently discover 5 promising sites including some long forgotten artisan sites. Past termite mound sampling has led to discoveries of copper, gold and even diamonds.

Termites in the US are THE most costly structural insect pest. In other parts of the world, termites are worth their weight in gold.

Australian Termite Mound
Image by NeilsPhotography

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is a retired Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
This entry was posted in Biomaterials, Environment. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Prospecting with Termites

  1. Pingback: Prospecting with Termites | Living With Insects Blog | Termite Information

  2. BioBob says:

    Very cool !! Now there is a tidbit to employ at cocktail parties lol.

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