• Stéphanie Périquet

Which termite is this?

Updated: Dec 17, 2021

Coming in different shapes and colours, termite mount are a common sight when driving around on Ongava. For the unsuspecting observer, they might belong to many different species, but upon close inspection, their inhabitants rather look the same… So which is it? Many species or simply soil variations? Well, this is exactly what we set to found out in a collaborative study led by Barbara Van Asch, a geneticist from Stellenbosch University, South Africa.

We divided the reserve into 1.5x1.5km cells and criss-crossed them to sample a few termites from 83 mounts. Stored in ethanol at -24°C, they will be sent to South Africa where Barbara and her students will extract their mitochondrial DNA and answer our burning question: how many species of termites build mounts on Ongava?

I'll happily leave the lab work to our colleagues down south, but I surely had a lot of fun collecting these termites! I did, however, felt a bit like a great ape learning to use tools, perch on the mounts with my pair of tweezers waiting for termites to come into my reach…