Termite mounds are a staple of the savanna landscape. Abandoned termite mounds become the framework for the dens of many different creatures, excellent perches for Topi as they survey the landscape, and the pedestals of choice for displaying black bellied bustards. While some termite mounds stand alone in a field of tall grass, others clump together and form a web of evenly spaced mounds that covers a wide area.
This high density of termite mounds turns out to have profound consequences for the ecosystem. Pringle et al (2010) found that sticky traps located close to an area densely packed with termite mounds collected more flying insects than did sticky traps located further from termite mounds. Furthermore, trees located close to areas with densely packed mounds tended to be larger and hosted more geckos and spiders than did trees further from termite-dense areas. They showed that this trend was not driven by direct effects of termites on geckos, trees or spiders; rather, termites were causing changes in soil composition, which in turn affected primary productivity and produced a cascade of increased biotic interactions in the regions around these mounds. Finally, they showed that regular spacing of mounds, produced by the strict non-overlapping foraging areas of different termite colonies, caused more dramatic increases in biotic interactions than did the same number of colonies spaced randomly.
“That’s great, but what does it have to do with hyenas?” Well, not much. But it’s cool, right!?
But, like much of my life these days, this recent discovery does relate to hyenas in some way. We were at the South den the other night when a nearby termite mound began to bloom. This means that, suddenly, thousands of winged termites began pouring from the top of the mound and flying off. EVIL and SNUG, two 6 month old den cubs, immediately leapt up from where they were resting and began devouring the winged insects as they came out of the mound! I don’t know how they knew that the commotion coming from the nearby mound was actually a delicious meal, but somehow they did. I hope you guys enjoy the video as much as they enjoyed their crunchy snacks!
Check out the Pringle et al (2010) article for free here!