Termite Nests and Mounds: How Do They Do It? What are They Made of?

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Termites can cause a serious problem for a human. They go deep into the wooden parts of our homes, totally destroying the wood and making homes uninhabitable and empty.

No matter how ironic it may sound, but termites can build not just a house, but also an entire city.

These “cities” can effectively nourish and protect them. Let’s try to understand, how these tiny “animals” are able to construct such amazing buildings.

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How Do the Termites Build their “Dwellings”?

What are termite mounds made of? Termite nest or mound – an aboveground or underground part of termites’ dwelling. Such nests are made of sand, clay, soil, wood chips and other natural materials, fastened with saliva of termite workers.

Termite nest is building constantly, until the colony of termites is living in it, and for a few hundred years the nest can grow up to 5 meters in height (for mound nests in tropical countries).

The construction of a nest can take up to decades. The largest known termite nest reaches a height of 12.8 m. Termite nest is believed to be the one of the largest structures created by land animals.

How do termites build their mounds? Termites are highly social insects with precise hierarchy and acute instinct for self-preservation. The construction and reparation of the nest is entirely on termites’ working caste.

Working termites produce sticky mixture for building a nest, and this special structure consists of grinded wood, clay, cardboard and salvia. Grains of this mixture are glued to each other and become hard.

If the nest is destroyed with heavy rain or hostile ants, it would be immediately repaired, as the main purpose of such maintenance is to save the life of the Queen and its offspring.

Termite nests are extremely large, and can spread over a 50 to 100 m radius. Subterranean nests are comprised of internal roads which allow worker termites to gather and deliver food to the colony.

Learn more about subterranean termites: signs of their activity; best methods of treatment and DIY methods. Eastern subterranean termites and their tunnels and tubes with photo.

Inside the mound the insects erect various columns, vaults and arches, again guided by incomprehensible “underground vision” of building structures.

The most unbelievable fact is that the termites construct such incredible buildings being completely blind.

Today, the scientists find it difficult to explain, how these tiny blind insects are able to construct so complicated multi-leveled “dwelling”.

Some say that termites have sixth sense, other propose a theory, that termites “charge” the constructions with special “biofield” that can give necessary information to other builders.

Nevertheless, termite nests and especially mound are a real engineering marvel among all mammals, including human.

The structure of the mounds can be very complicated. Inside the termite nest is an extensive system of tunnels and conduits that serves as a ventilation system for the underground and aboveground nest.

In order to create good ventilation system, the termites will construct several shafts leading down to the cellar located beneath the nest. The mound is built above the subterranean nest.

The nest itself is a spheroidal structure consisting of numerous gallery chambers. They come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes.

Another incredible fact – many species of termites have a real mushroom “farm” inside the nest, which can constantly provide them with food.

Working termites obtain bark and bring it into the special chamber within the nest, and on it they grow special fungi, which help termites to digest timber with ease and make it more nutritious.

Also, termites have special chamber for storing food supplies and for rearing eggs.

To give you a vivid example, just imagine, that some tropical termites build amazing above-ground mounds which can grow to be extremely tall; some mounds found in Africa and Australia stand six meters high.

During the construction of the nest each of the insects is blindly guided by the following algorithm:

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  1. To make a column of grains.
  2. When the column reaches a certain height to examine whether there is a taller column nearby. If there is a taller column, to begin to work on it immediately.
  3. When the column reaches a bigger size, to search to a column to connect with this one.
  4. If not, leave the column and look for other suitable column nearby.
  5. If there is a proper column nearby to connect this column with the current one with a bridge.
  6. Next step is to continue from the very beginning.
Based on this algorithm, thousands of unorganized insects build a complex multi-leveled maze. They have no plans or drawings. Scientists say, that the termites have some “collective mind”.

How Do the Different Termites Build their Houses?

Depending on the termite type, mud-based termite nests may be either subterranean or above ground in the wood. Both subterranean and above-ground termite nests also function as shelter and a place to produce and rear their offspring.

Each type of termites has its own type of a “dwelling”, most of them consists of 2 parts: the ground nest in the form of high altitude (in tropical climate) and underground nest (which is a network of tunnels and numerous small chambers).

The main building material is a mixture of excrement of working termites, clay (in hot tropical countries) or ground wood and saliva.

The construction of the mound lasts the whole life of a termite colony. It can take decades and every year one can find a new layer or level of termites’ dwelling.

Be careful! If you have found such tall termite nest do not try to destroy it and do not disturb the insects. It could be dangerous!

Many species of termites – mostly, subterranean termites that are frequent visitors in the USA and Australia – make their nests of a cardboard. Cardboard is a cellulose, a structure made of timber.

They glue cardboard particles with ground with the help of a salvia. When this mixture hardens it becomes a fast wall that can protect termites from external threats.

Advice: as some types of subterranean termites build their nest of cardboard and salvia, there is a possibility to make cardboard baits to eliminate these pests.

Just put a relatively small (10 cm x 10 cm) piece of cardboard on the ground surface and cover it with the soil.

Try to choose the appropriate place for such hand-made bait.

Then, to hasten the process, you can pour water on it.

In 2-5 days you will be able to extract the cardboard full with eating termites. Just put the bait into the fire.

One should remember, that this bait is a temporary measure and it is not able to eliminate the whole population of termites, because it is powerless against eggs.

Recommendation: another way to use this bait is to soak it with boric acid that will kill the termites.

Some species of these insects make their “dwellings” only from the particles of the soil and connect these particles with their secretion. Such underground buildings are very durable and very difficult to destroy.

Warning! If you have traced an underground termite nest via mud tubes, or just have found such nest under the old and rotten wooden structures, do not try to remove or destroy it by your own, it can be dangerous! Contact the local termite control service for professional consultation.

Learn more about drywood termites: signs of their activity; best methods of treatment: spot treatment and DIY methods; how to get rid of them in furniture?


How do termites build their nests and mounds, see pictures below:

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Useful articles

If you interested in more information of termites we recommend you to read the following articles:

Helpful video

Professor Brian Cox explores the function of a termite city and what you can actually find inside one:


There is a great variety of termite species on the earth and some of them are creating really amazing engineering objects to preserve their own life.

In hot tropical countries there is a wet season, and an underground nest could be completely destroyed with rain. So that the termites there build hard and tall mud mounds that can sustain all harsh weather conditions.

Subterranean termites are found in more “stable” parts of the earth in terms of the climate. They are able to live under the ground surface preserving the proper level of temperature and humidity.

Such termites’ dwelling and their hierarchical style of life are of very keen interest among the scientists and biologists, who are trying to explain these marvels of nature.

Comments: 2
  1. Lindy

    You need to tell more about the lifestyle of a termite and how it relates to their mounds. Thanks

  2. Albert Samweli

    Great information. Though i would suggest that you should add more facts and hints about the subject.

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