When we think of termites, we think of underground nests and the damage they can do to our homes. In Costa Rica, I encountered a different type of termite. Arboreal termites build large, dark colored nests on tree trunks or large branches. They are also sometimes found directly on top of the ground.
Arboreal termite nests are made from a mixture of digested wood and termite feces. The mixture hardens into a strong, protective material. The termites use this same material to build tunnels down the side of their home tree, over the ground, and to rotting trees which they use for food. These tubes serve the same protective purpose as the mud tubes we are used to seeing with subterranean termites. Nests can be the size of a basketball or even larger, and colonies can contain 50,000 or more termites. Arboreal termites are common in the tropical, lowland habitats of Central and South America such as rainforests, mangroves, and savannas.
The colony contains soldiers, workers, and one queen. The soldiers can secrete a sticky chemical from their jaws that is very irritating to the skin inside the nose and mouth of predators such as anteaters.
The pictures below are of a nest that was right above the ground. If you look closely at the picture on the right, you can see some termites on the nest.