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Nare's Notes on Keeping Z. nevadensis

termite termites nare zootermopsis zootermopsis nevadensis

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#1 Offline Nare - Posted April 23 2024 - 4:33 PM

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Hi folks,

 

Just wanted to record some of my anecdotal findings from raising some termites over the last year. As a disclaimer I'm not a scientist (and almost failed my biology course!) so take this all with a good pinch of salt. I think it's worth experimenting with different founding styles for any termites you get and seeing what works well for you.

I received several Zootermopsis nevadensis pairs last year and founded them in various setups with different container shapes and wood types. I found that the colonies founded in petri dishes founded more quickly and more successfully than those founded in test tubes. I also found that colonies raised on a mix of wood types and wood-materials performed better than those raised solely on white-rotted wood.

Background
Termites

I received 60-70 Zootermopsis angusticollis imagoes from a contact on Vancouver Island last October. The imagoes were caught while they were swarming, so they likely all came from the same colony and many came with their wings still attached.

 

20231013-124601.jpg

 

Wood Types

I used two different types of wood for raising these termites:

  • White-rotted wood: this was a soft, pale-brown/white wood which I initially collected a Reticulitermes flavipes colony in, but kept the wood after moving them out of it. It seems to be home to a good variety of springtails, isopods, and myriapods. The wood was stringy/fibrous and soft, but not crumbly. Apparently this kind of wood retains a good mix of macro and micro nutrients (cellulose, lignin, nitrogen, minerals, etc...).
  • Brown-rotted wood: this wood was hard, crumbly, and completely dried out. I had it in my closet for close to a year but completely forgot about it. When I initially collected it it was much heavier but I suspect much of the weight was water. This type of wood is lacking in cellulose.

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You can learn more about the types of wood rot here: Wood Decay in Trees | Forest Pathology.

 

Special Substrate
I also made a termite-specific substrate last summer (loosely based on this: Development of a standard medium for culturing the termite Reticulitermes speratus | Insectes Sociaux (springer.com)). Broadly, the steps I took to make this medium were:
1. Crumble up some cubic brown-rotted wood and rise it as best as possible.

2. Add the wood to a container, fill the container with water until the wood is covered, and add baking yeast.
3. Let the mixture ferment for a few months, then drain the water and serve.

 

20240423-194703.jpg

 

I believe the idea with this formula is to concentrate beneficial nutrients in the fermented wood (especially nitrogen which I've been told is difficult for termites to acquire in nature).

Founding Setups

I founded the pairs in 3 types of setups:

  • 10x normal test tubes: these were glass/plastic 13mm diameter test tubes. I put a wad of wet tissue paper at the back of the tube, then filled the rest of the tube with white-rotted wood, before adding one pair to each tube and plugging the tube with cotton.
  • 3x large test tubes: these were glass 20mm diameter test tubes. I filled the bottom third of each tube with the special substrate, then filled the remaining two thirds with white-rotted wood. I added 2 pairs to each tube (4 termites total) and plugged the end with cotton.
  • 6(?)x petri dishes: these were 10mm deep 60(?)mm diameter plastic petri dishes. I put a layer of tissue paper on the bottom, then filled about a one third pizza slice area of each dish with the special substrate and the other two thirds with the white-rotted wood. I added 2-3 pairs per dish, then put an elastic band around the circumference of each dish before putting on the lid and wrapping another elastic band around the lid and the dish to secure the lid.
  • 1x condiment container: this was a 30mm by 30mm cylindrical container that I assembled similar to the petri dishes (tissue paper then special substrate then white-rotted wood). I put any remaining imagoes in here.

 

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All of these setups were put in a 300x200x200mm plastic container with a lid, into which I also placed an open-topped cup of water to maintain a high ambient humidity in the container. This "moisture chamber" setup seems to keep the humidity in these setups high enough that I don't need to water any of the individual setups.

 

Larger Setups

Once the founding colonies outgrew their initial setups (~4 or 5 months) I moved them into larger setups, of which I made 2 main types:

  • 4x large cylindrical containers: various larger cylindrical containers (peanut butter jars, condiment containers) on the order of 70-100x100mm. I put a layer of tissue paper on the bottom before adding some of the special substrate and several large chunks of the cubic brown-rotted wood. I filled in the rest of each with the white-rotted woods, before adding the termites (and the entire contents of their petri dishes) and putting the lid on.
  • 2x pencil case containers: clear plastic pencil cases, approximately 70x150x40mm, into which I put a layer of tissue paper, then some of the special substrate, as well as large chunks of the cubic brown-rotted wood, filling in the remaining gaps with the white-rotted wood.

20240416-063155.jpg

 

I also isolated a slime mold from one of the setups and cultured it in its own petri dish (you can see it in the top left).

 

I should note that I made some changes throughout the investigation:

  • Once it became apparent that the colonies in test tubes weren't going to found, I moved them to petri dishes. A few of these colonies seem to have eggs now.
  • I merged the colonies in the large test tubes into one larger petri dish with exclusively brown-rotted wood. They have a few workers now but I don't think they're growing as fast as the colonies in the original petri dishes.

 

Results

Founding Results

For the colonies raised in the mixed-wood petri dishes, I found that they produced workers within a month or two, and outgrew their petri dishes within 4 months. This means they ate most of the available wood and the remaining material was mostly fecal pellets. Of the 6 or so colonies I founded this way, all 6 performed well and created healthy colonies. I noted that some of the setups remained rather damp, especially the ones where I used a higher portion of the special substrate, as the substrate itself is still moist. I haven't had the opportunity to dry it out much yet.

 

For the colonies founded in the small test tubes, one of them made a single soldier, and the rest did nothing. I moved them into petri dishes prepared as above about a month ago, and a few of them have eggs now. To me this suggests that a 13mm diameter test tube cannot hold enough wood for the colony to feel comfortable to begin founding. These tubes also didn't have any of the special substrate - so it's possible that this impacted their success as well.

 

For the colonies founded in the large test tubes, none of these colonies produced any workers either. I found that the imagoes dug in the substrate at the back third of the tube but it didn't maintain its structure very well, and so I don't think they could use that part of the tube as a nest. On a side note, I had all three of these tubes beside each other in the container, and noted that the imagoes from one tube dug their way out of the cotton and into one of the neighbouring tubes. I guess they got bored on their own.

 

For the colony founded in the condiment container, they did fairly well though were more space constrained than the petri dishes. They produced a soldier and a few workers within a similar timespan.

 

Larger Setup Results

While this is technically ongoing, I can record some notes from what I've seen so far.

 

The colonies have successfully taken hold in at least 3 of the 4 cylindrical containers and both of the pencil case containers. In the past, my Zootermopsis would always die out once I moved them to a larger setup - it seems they've avoided that this time however. As for any differences between the two setups, I've found that the termites are harder to observe in the cylindrical containers - likely because there's less surface area for the same amount of volume, so they can more easily hide inside larger chunks of wood.

 

Many of the colonies have made tunnels into the tissue paper layer on the bottom of the containers, where I can see them foraging. It seems they like to eat the tissue paper - possibly because of the high cellulose content. Does this suggest the other woods I've provided are low in cellulose? I'm not sure.

 

Conclusion

Some key takeaways I've drawn from this investigation are:

  • Petri dishes seem to be more suited to founding than small test tubes.
  • Providing a variety of wood types might be important to colony success.
  • The moisture chamber concept seems fairly effective at maintaining humidity.
  • For large setups, expanding on the petri dish format seems fairly effective.
  • The pencil-case form factor (short, wide, and long) seems fairly effective for observation.

 

And finally some areas for future investigation include:

  • Can I replicate these findings with other termite species (Zootermopsis angusticollis, Reticulitermes flavipes)?
  • Can I distinguish whether it was the wood type of the small test tubes or their form factor that led to colonies failing to found in them?

 

Anyway that's it for now. I may update this as the colonies grow to include more observations about late-game setups. Let me know if you have any questions or want more explanation about or images of certain setups. I'll include a few more pictures of the termites below for those interested.

 

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#2 Offline NancyZamora4991 - Posted April 23 2024 - 7:26 PM

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Thank you for these notes,

 

I wish I used the petri dish with some good substrate for mine last year. It seems they are really sensitive to the kind of wood they have (mine was cardboard) only after founding the first batch. The pairs all laid and had workers in one month of the flights but stopped producing for about 8 months until I moved them and gave them proper saw dust and other organic materials. The week I moved them, they started digging (or eating) the substrate and laid eggs. The colony has 2 soldiers and about 11 workers or so. (By the way I did not pass my biology class freshman year and had to do it again the next year, lol.)


Edited by NancyZamora4991, April 23 2024 - 7:44 PM.

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#3 Offline Nare - Posted April 24 2024 - 10:08 AM

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Thank you for these notes,

 

I wish I used the petri dish with some good substrate for mine last year. It seems they are really sensitive to the kind of wood they have (mine was cardboard) only after founding the first batch. The pairs all laid and had workers in one month of the flights but stopped producing for about 8 months until I moved them and gave them proper saw dust and other organic materials. The week I moved them, they started digging (or eating) the substrate and laid eggs. The colony has 2 soldiers and about 11 workers or so. (By the way I did not pass my biology class freshman year and had to do it again the next year, lol.)

Cardboard is definitely high in cellulose but lacking in other nutrients. Some termites (like Reticulitermes species I believe) are able to source nutrients from other sources (soil) and so feeding them only cardboard provided they have soil will work, but as you found out it doesn't work for Zootermopsis. I've also heard that termites will take a break from egg laying during the winter, but I believe that may be temperature dependent, since mine laid during the winter. Hopefully the better nutrition allows them to continue to thrive!


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#4 Offline Mushu - Posted June 2 2024 - 2:32 AM

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Thanks for sharing. 

 

I'm looking to try my hand at a termite colony preferably drywood, so will be looking for nuptial flights this year.

 

My buddy gave me some Reticulitermes hesperus workers/soldiers he found in his yard.  Basically any wood(he had a cut up tree trunk 2 years old and some wooden stakes) that is sitting on the ground over time, the termites inhabited. 

 

I've done some research but have zero experience.

 

 

1. Where do you get the decayed wood types mentioned

2. I've read termites mostly prefer softwoods(southern yellow pine and spruce favorites) from a study and in another laboratory study they provide 2 X 4. Unfortunately they never mentioned if they pre rotted them. Do you think just damp softwood 2 by 4 pieces would work with the substrate mentioned?

3. The open jar of water is basically a water tower to keep humidity and how you have it setup you just need to fill up for many colonies very nice. 

4. Do you heat the colonies or the room they are in?


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#5 Offline Nare - Posted June 3 2024 - 7:33 AM

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Thanks for sharing. 

 

I'm looking to try my hand at a termite colony preferably drywood, so will be looking for nuptial flights this year.

 

My buddy gave me some Reticulitermes hesperus workers/soldiers he found in his yard.  Basically any wood(he had a cut up tree trunk 2 years old and some wooden stakes) that is sitting on the ground over time, the termites inhabited. 

 

I've done some research but have zero experience.

 

 

1. Where do you get the decayed wood types mentioned

2. I've read termites mostly prefer softwoods(southern yellow pine and spruce favorites) from a study and in another laboratory study they provide 2 X 4. Unfortunately they never mentioned if they pre rotted them. Do you think just damp softwood 2 by 4 pieces would work with the substrate mentioned?

3. The open jar of water is basically a water tower to keep humidity and how you have it setup you just need to fill up for many colonies very nice. 

4. Do you heat the colonies or the room they are in?

1. I get my wood from the local forests. It's basically just the unmanaged parts of the city parks.
2. I would be curious to read that study. To be honest I probably haven't read enough about termite diet as I should have, but what you give them will depend on the species. Drywood termites can live in furniture and prefer/need dry wood, so you could probably give them an untreated 2 by 4 from the store. I've seen journals here that give them plain wooden dowels. Reticulitermes and some subterranean termites have been recorded eating things as inedible as insulation foam in people's houses, but it would probably be better to offer them real wood of some sort. I've been experimenting with mine though and they seem to take toilet paper and cardboard just fine, but they also have some dimensional lumber and rotted wood. I think your 2 by 4s in substrate would work just fine in all honesty. For dampwoods my findings are as above.
4. I do not heat them and wouldn't, as anecdotally I've had that mess with humidity and other factors that the termites prefer to control on their own. If you were going to heat them, I'd heat the room they're in, not their containers (via a heating cable), and I'd be extra cautious about them drying out.


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#6 Offline Mushu - Posted June 4 2024 - 11:40 PM

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Thanks for the reply.

 

It's more an article on a study regarding termite preference but was on Formosan termites.

https://agresearchma...5/nov/termites/

 

this is the video where they show using 2X4 to raise them in Labs. 

 

I'd love to try my hand a dampwood(termitat style) or drywood and have been researching nuptial flights and spots I can perhaps find them at. 







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