Thursday, April 03, 2014

weathering the war

The plywood has been there for a couple of years.  At least, since we were boarding up the place for Jova the Hurricane in 2011.

But it had taken on what I thought was a weathered look.  Weathered enough for me to trek back into the house to fetch the camera.  Photographs love distress.  And wood as is good as anything to fill the craving.

While I was shooting away, it occurred to me that this was not merely the regular wear and tear that takes the ply out of plywood.  You know.  Stone and water -- and all that jazz.

Some unseen force was at work.  And I knew well its handiwork.

When I pulled the remnants of the two sheets apart, I found what I expected.  The tell-tale trail of termites.  The terrorists of the tropics.  Well, most anywhere, I suspect.

They are everywhere here.  That is why we live in houses of concrete and buy doors made of parotta.  Otherwise, we would be living in large piles of sawdust.

I love insects.  Especially, the industriousness of the social insects.  But that is about as much good as I can say when it comes to termites.  I suspect even the Ferengi would find them ugly. 

Like these guys.

They are soldier termites.  And here's something you may or may not know.  The soldiers are the self-sacrificing caste in the termite world.  They are the only defense against the colony's sworn enemies.  Ants.  Ants who love nothing better than feeding on termite veal and caviar.

Some termites can spray an Assad-style nerve toxin through a nozzle on their heads.  But their usual defense is to wedge their heads into the termite tunnel to prevent the passage of any ants.  When one falls, there are additional soldiers lined up behind to take that soldier's place.

And if the breach of the nest by ants is wider than a soldier's head?  The soldier will form on the outside of the breach to allow the workers to restore the damage.  Of course, they are doomed to die on the outside of the nest.  Rather like the Spartans at Thermopylae.

I suspect that is what those three termite Musketeers are looking for.  A reason to find an honorable death.

OK.  Now you know something you may not have known before.  But it does not much change my opinion of termites.  Like their cousins the leaf-cutter ants, they are welcome to live wherever they like.  Just not on these shores.

The ravaged plywood is a good reminder why I did not bring my art collection to Mexico.  I suspect it is far safer in the my nephew's household -- well-guarded by my soldierly 6-year old great-nephew.

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