Termite tenacity

  • Stephen Hasiotis next to ancient termite nest

    Larry Harwood/Univ. of Colorado
  Termites build their homes to last. The evidence is in New Mexico, where a team of University of Colorado scientists have identified termite mounds dating back to the Jurassic period, 155 million years ago. More than 100 sandstone pillars, some as high as 20 feet and six feet in diameter, were found over the last two years near the town of Gallup in northwestern New Mexico. "These things are gigantic and well constructed," says Stephen Hasiotis, the geobiologist who directed the study. The mounds were formerly thought to be fulgurites, rock fused by lightning strikes; closer investigation revealed a system of chambers and galleries comparable to contemporary termite nests. Hasiotis says the insects originally built the nests in sand dunes, bonding together grains of sand using saliva, feces and partially digested woody material. Over time, geologic uplifting pushed the pillars to the surface, where wind and water eroded the earth around them. What makes the fossilized find exciting, says Hasiotis, is that the mounds offer clues to the biological diversity of the period. "What might have eaten the ancient termites," says Hasiotis, "were low-slung armored dinosaurs like stegosaurs or anklyosaurs."


Contact Stephen Hasiotis at 303/499-9413, or write the University of Colorado at Boulder, Office of Public Relations, 354 Willard Administrative Center, Campus Box 9, Boulder, CO 80309-0009.


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