www.whyville.net Oct 27, 2006 Weekly Issue

Whyville Columnist

Discovering Science

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As almost everyone knows, termites eat wood. They can destroy our houses, and they can be hard to get rid of. Now, wood is high in cellulose, a compound that cannot be digested, so why is it that termites can eat wood and we can't?

Well, we can eat wood, but I would not recommend it. If too much is taken in, it can clog your systems. But that is all that termites eat. How is it that they can keep eating it and eating it? Do they have special powers? No, I found out that it's not powers at all! It would be pretty awesome if they did have powers!

I believe everyone reading this should now realize that termites eat wood all day long. Now, how do they stay alive with all that cellulose in their systems? That answer is simple. They are hosting more than one hundred species of bacteria in their guts! Eww! But bacteria makes us sick! How are they living with all that bacteria and cellulose in their stomachs? The bacteria and termites are in coexistence.

Yes, the bacteria are parasites to the host termites, but the termites cannot live without them. The bacteria break down the cellulose in the wood that the termites eat. So, the termites eat the wood they cannot digest, the bacteria break down the indigestible parts, the termites keep eating wood, and the bacteria continue to keep them alive. It is win, win for both of them! Termites stay alive, while the bacteria get fed!

But, couldn't the termites just eat things they can digest themselves? Well, they could, but think about it this way. You eat the foods you eat because you like the tastes of them or your parents force you to eat vegetables for your own health. You wouldn't just stop eating bananas or chocolate and start eating telephones or houses! Why would termites say, "Let's get rid of the bacteria and start eating watermelon!" It's just not the food chain.

So, now we know how termites survive their indigestible diets. Do you have termite problems in your house? Do you have any termite stories? Use the BBS!

Your Scientist,


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