Tommy, the termite
It was all very dark and he could barely move. Tommy tried to stretch but always hit this wall around him. He kept gnawing and felt something move. There it was, he had broken through the front wall. He slowly crawled out of his cabin and did a big stretch. Ah, that felt good. His joints were still a bit stiff. Just bend and stretch a bit more. Yes, now he felt better. Where was he? And where did he have to go?
“Hello!?”, he shouted.
“Ah, there you are. Welcome to Big Hill, young man”, a voice next to him said.
“Um, thank you”, Tommy replied. “ What is Big Hill?” Tommy asked.
“Big Hill is the Palace of our King and Queen. It’s the biggest termite construction in this kingdom. You are lucky to have been hatched/born here. By the way, my name is Geoffrey, I’m your teacher.”
“Oh, okay. Nice to meet you Geoffrey. I’m Tommy,” Tommy said.
Geoffrey giggled, “ I know that, my son. Come on, let me take you on a tour and explain to everything you need to know.”
So Geoffrey took Tommy on his first tour. Big Hill was big indeed. It consisted of unlimited ways and paths and Tommy wondered if would ever be able to remember all the ways. Geoffrey saw his confused look on his face and said in a calming tone,” Don’t worry, you’ll quickly figure out where to go. It looks all confusing at the beginning but soon you’ll have learned to use your internal gps system.”
“My gps system? What is that?, Tommy asked bewildered.
“It’s a system you we are equipped with by birth so we always know which way to,” Geoffrey explained.
“Cool!” Tommy said excitedly. “ What else can we do?”
“Well, we can build enormous buildings by just using the earth around us. Buildings like this one, for example.”
“You mean we built this?” Tommy was flabbergasted.
“Yes indeed. And you are lucky you have eyes and can see this. – I see by the look on your face that you don’t quite understand what I’m saying. No worries, that’s what I’m here for. I give all the newborns a schooling so everybody knows their job. Now you, Tommy, are a soldier. Your job will be to guard our king and queen and their eggs. Actually it’s the eggs the queen laid, but still. You’ll stand in front of their door and make sure nobody enters the room without permission. The eggs are particularly important since they are our future.”
“How many rooms are there in this mound? Tommy asked.
“ Oh, it must be several tens of thousands. I’ve actually never counted them. I don’t think anybody ever has. But when you think of the fact that millions of termites live in our mound. Remember, our mound is specifically big. The smaller mounds don’t inhabit that many termites. But – and this is important now – the king and queen have their own master bedroom and don’t share their room with the normal folks here.”
“Understood, Geoffrey. What I don’t quite understand still are two things; a) you said I am lucky I have eyes. Who doesn’t have eyes and how do they find their way around then? And b) How do we build such a thing and how come it doesn’t collapse?”
“Excellent questions, Tommy. I see we made a good choice making you a soldier. To your first question; the worker termites have no eyes. This is a rather interesting fact since they are actually the ones who build the mounds. And this is already the answer to your second question. So, in order to find their way back to the mound and around the workers use their extraordinary smell and hearing senses. To build the mounds they use the dirt from around the area and mix it with their saliva which makes an incredibly strong mass. Together with their complex series of tunnels in the mound to help keep the inside cool despite blazing temperatures outside they have built constructions that have stood up to a century!”
“That is amazing. What brilliant architects they are. And all without sight.”
“Yes, indeed,” Geoffrey nodded his head. “We are very proud of our folk here.”
“If the workers build the mound and the soldiers guard and protect the king and queen and their babies –“
“Nymphs, Tommy, they are not called babies but nymphs,” Geoffrey corrected Tommy.
“Ah, yes, so the soldiers protect the nymphs and the workers build the mounds. What do the king and queen do then?”
“They make sure we have enough new termites to ensure our folk. The queen lays the eggs and the king fertilizes them.”
“That doesn’t sound like a difficult job, does it Tommy asked.
“Well, that may be right but that is their job. It’s just the way it is. That is also why they can live up to thirty years whereas the rest of us sees the big termite much sooner.”
“Hm, I guess you’re right, it’s just the way it is,” Tommy said.
“So, young man,” Geoffrey put an arm on Tommy’s shoulder, “if you don’t have any more questions right now, let me take you on a tour through the mound and then I’ll show you exactly what your job will be. You won’t start right away, though. You have a little more time to grow a bit and beef up before you report for duty. Now, here are the quarters of the soldiers…”