African mound-building Termites

(Macrotermes sp.)


African mound-building Termites IUCN NOT EVALUATED (NE)


Facts about this animal

Macrotermes jeanneli, M. bellicosus, and related species are fungus-growing termites, which build spactacular earth mounds whith usually one single, high, towering chimney.

A colony starts with one pair - "king" and "queen". The queen is larger than other colony members and swollen with eggs. She can live and reproduce for many years. The king fertilises the queen and helps to tend the young during the foundation of the colony.

All other members of the large colony, which may comprise up to one million animals, are the offspring of this pair, either juveniles or sterile adults belonging to four castes, two worker and two soldier castes. The castes are structurally different and have different functions.

The larger workers, which are sterile males, are foragers and build on the surface of the mound. The smaller workers, genetically females, are responsible for tasks inside the mound such as cultivating the fngus comb and tending the larvae and the reproductive animals.

The major soldiers guard the entrances to the mound, while the smaller soldiers guard and defend the workers. All soldiers are sterile females.

The termite species kept by zoos collect grass, hay, straw and vegetable litter. Food is processed colectively in the mound using the symbiotic fungus Termitomyces sp. The termites feed either on the plant material or eat the fungi as a source of protein.

Priodically winged reproductive animals are produced alongside the sterile brood. The reproductives fly out of the nest in thousands, and after shedding the wingspair up to found new colonies.

Termites undergo a metamorphosis with three developmental stages: egg, nymph and adult. The eggs hatch into nymphs (the first instar) that are fed by the workers, and these nymphs then moult several times, differentiating into worker, soldier or reproductive forms. Development into adult forms takes several months, depending on food, temperature and the size of the colony.

Did you know?
that termites are known to have been on Earth for over 50 million years? Some of their fossils date back to the Oligocene, Eocene, and Miocene periods.


Name (Scientific) Macrotermes sp.
Name (English) African mound-building Termites
Name (French) Termite macrotermes
Name (German) Riesentermite
Name (Spanish) Termita macrotermes
Local names Afrikaans: Rysmere
isiZulu: uMuhlwa
kiSwahili: Mchwa
CITES Status Not listed
CMS Status Not listed



Photo Copyright by
Megan Brunning



Range The genus Macrotermes contains about 350 species, which occur in Africa, Southern Asia and Australia. The species Macrotermes jeanneli, which is kept be yome zoos, originates from East Africa.
Habitat Miombo woodland, savanna, bushveld and grasslands.
Wild population No data
Zoo population Only one zoo reported Macrotermes to ISIS (2008), This does, however not reflect reality.

In the Zoo

African mound-building Termites


How this animal should be transported

For air transport of adult individuals, Container Note 62, for caterpillars Container Note 63, of the IATA Live Animals Regulations should be followed.


Find this animal on ZooLex


Photo Copyright by
Megan Brunning

Why do zoos keep this animal

Zoos keep African mound-building termites for educational reasons to explain the food chain, and also because of their complex social system. Ideally, termites are integrated into an ecosystem display.