Crooked Jaw Termites

5-10mm | July 3, 2011 | Tupaciguara, Minas Gerais, Brazil

As promised in my last post, here are some termites where the soldiers are much larger than the workers. Large is relative though, since although they are twice the size of the workers, these soldiers still only measure one centimeter.

Soldiers are twice the size of workers

Based on Hogue’s Latin American Insects and subsequent web searches, I believe these are termites in the genus Neocapritermes, which he refers to in an illustration as crooked jaw termites. The name certainly fits. My first thoughts after seeing one of these soldiers was that it was deformed.

Soldiers have crooked jaws

After seeing a few more, my thoughts turned to wondering what purpose those jaws might serve. I thought they kind of looked like bulldozers, and that perhaps they’d just push and perhaps flip away intruders.

Another soldier

The size of the head suggested there were large muscles powering the jaws though, so I wasn’t quite convinced of that.

Large head for strong jaw muscles

Here’s a closer look at the mouthparts.

Mandibles and palps

Even the workers are interesting with their transparent bodies.

Worker with transparent body

You can see their digestive track and perhaps some other organs.

Group of workers

So what exactly are the jaws used for? See for yourself in this video, as a soldier rather effortlessly flicks away an ant. The action is around the 20 second mark.


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4 Responses to Crooked Jaw Termites

  1. Patrick Coin says:

    Very spiffy. Neat how the jaws are asymmetric.
    You should help people out on my latest super-crop challenge on Flickr–should be easy for you, but I don’t think anybody else is going to get it.

    • Troy Bartlett says:

      I stared at your challenge for awhile right after you posted it (and the followup as well), but nothing came to mind. I’ll stare at it some more today :).

  2. Arnold Planet says:

    Great pics Troy.
    There’s just not enough macros of termites in the net especially the lesser known types of termites like the ones in your post. I hope to see more pics of “flicker” soldiers.


  3. TermiteKing says:

    Wow that soldier sent that GPS ant flying.

    I always study termites and this one is different from all the others with those asymmetric mandibles.

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