Building With Termites

Termite mound and Eastgate Centre

Termite mound and Eastgate Centre
Photo: Inhabit.com

The pest termites of North America tunnel in wooden buildings and can destroy them. Some species of termites in Africa make their own buildings: large complex structures resistant to degradation by weather and animals. The termite structures are comparable to adobe, a material used by humans for construction. Can termites tell us how to improve adobe as a construction material?

A group of scientists* studied (.pdf) the fine structure of a termite mound. The mound was built primarily from sand and clay with a minor amount of organic material, either from the termites or soil organic material. The large grains of sand (63% quartz) are surrounded by irregular particles of kaolinite (20% clay). Larger sand particles provide the bulk of the material and the clay mortar makes the large structure cohesive. Termites add saliva to the clay during building. The saliva moistens the clay to allow the clay particles to flow and surround the grains of sand. Termite saliva may also function as a plasticizer additive that gives the structure more flexibility and resistance to cracking. Understanding the components and role of termite saliva could lead to artificial termite saliva for creating building materials from widely available sand and clay.

*Microstructure, Physical and Mechanical Properties of clayey material from termite mound: a stabilized material for adobe building. Younoussa Millogo, Mohamed Hajjaji and Jean Claude Morel. http://www.researchgate.net/publication/251527677

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is an 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, by jjneal, Insect Inspired. Bookmark the permalink.

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