Life Sciences

Look Inside a Termite's Gut

Looking into the microscope visitors see little wiggling shapes of microorganisms that live inside a termite's gut. Without them, the termite would die. Termites—like most other insects and animals— can't digest cellulose, the tough fibrous sugar molecules in wood and plants. Over a hundred different microbes living in their gut digest the cellulose for them, providing all the energy the termite needs. As these microbes break down the cellulose, its stored energy becomes available to both microbe and termite. The termite gets predigested food and energy and the microbe get a safe place to live. Without bacteria many animals—such as rabbits, porcupines, cows and elephants—would derive no energy from the plants they eat.