Isoptera - undet. sp.
Undet. genus and sp.
Size: No specimen available; based on presence of termite-constructed mud tunnels
Group Guild Status
Trogloxene Decomposer/ Uncommon Detritivore
Even though many termite species are subterranean in their habits, living primarily within the soil horizon, as a group, they are poorly represented in cave invertebrate records in the southwest. Termite soil tunnels were found at Kartchner Caverns at the highest point of the upper portion of the Tarantula Room on August 14, 2010 (photos at left). Termites have been observed in one other cave in southern Arizona, within which their soil tunnels extended 11 meters down the bedrock wall of the entrance shaft of the cave (RBP, personal observation). Termites are known to go to great depth (up to 30 meters) to obtain water necessary for their survival (Howarth and Stone 1990). Because of extreme arid conditions in the desert southwest during some seasons, one would anticipate that permanent water sources available in caves would be capitalized on by termites on a regular basis. Based on observations in many caves in Arizona and New Mexico this appears not to be the case in our region (RBP, personal observation).
No termites were observed around or within the soil tunnels during our observations. The soil tunnels were dry, and based on the presence of several broken sections the tunnels were apparently not being actively maintained at that time. No termites were found during a second visit to the site in March of 2011, when a couple of small portions of the workings were dissected to see if termites were present. Without specimens we cannot carry the identification of this species beyond the order level.
The termites in the Tarantula Room had built their earthen tunnels over plant roots (upon which they were apparently feeding) that extended from the soil horizon into the open air voids of the cave. Some of their tunnels extend out from beneath the edges of flowstone remnants onto the exposed bedrock wall (top photo at left). The termites could be an important prey species for the resident thread-legged bug (Phasmatocoris labyrinthicus) in this part of the cave. No evidence of termite presence was recorded in the initial study.
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