Fun_People Archive
18 May
Termite Flatulence

Date: Thu, 18 May 95 17:17:09 PDT
From: Peter Langston <psl>
To: Fun_People
Subject: Termite Flatulence

Forwarded-by: Bill Donaldson


By Mike Harden

The next time you are awakened from slumber by what you think are the
structural yawns and groans of a settling house, think again:

The sounds could be termite toots.

Not many days ago, Great Britain's Natural Environment Research Council
announced that scientists, after 5 years of research, have determined that
termite flatulence may make up as much as 20% of the methane produced
annually on earth.

Termites release an estimated 176 billion pounds of "greenhouse gas" per year.

One must remember that 240 quadrillion termites are scrabbling about the
planet--60 million for every man, woman and child--and that the billions
of tiny, burrowing Isoptera float "air biscuits" every second of every day.

"It doesn't surprise me," said a professor of entomology.  "They cause
more damage than all the fires, earthquakes, tornadoes and hurricanes put

"I'm sure termite flatulence is something to be concerned about," he said.
 "I'm not sure how alarmed we should be."

Other scientists have castigated creatures for being hoist by their own
petard.  For decades, they have indicted cattle, sheep and other belching
ruminants for their burped contributions to global warming.

Paleontologists recently have suggested that dinosaurs contributed to
their own demise by creating a noxious methane cloud of such mass that it
melted part of the polar icecaps.

Glacial ice may have squashed 30-ton brontosaurs like Roseanne dancing the
flamenco on garden slugs.

As for termites:  The purpose of the English study was to determine just
how large a slice of the methane pie can be attributed to the pesky little

Farm livestock produce a hefty 100 million tons of methane a year;
termites release nearly as much:  88 million tons.

A more alarming prospect:

The average size of termite colonies worldwide is much larger than thought.

Moreover, now that the world uses more insecticides that have less
residual killing power, the termite population could keep increasing.

My question has less to do with the greenhouse effect than with the
historical role of termites in the presumably supernatural phenomenon of
spontaneous self-incineration.

A farmer, say, strolls out to check his pole beans at dusk as his wife
watches from the porch swing.  Suddenly, he bursts into flames and disappears.

His wife sells the story to Unsolved Mysteries and runs off with a
parking-lot attendant named Hernando.

But I digress.

My question:  Could the farmer have been standing atop a termite colony
when he flicked his Bic to light his pipe, unaware that he had been haloed
with an aura of methane?

Kaboom!  All that the neighbors can find, when the smoke clears, is a
piece of a shoelace and a scorched pair of suspenders.

A mystery?

Maybe not.

A peril to the future of humanity?

Think about that when you pull the blanket to your chin tonight and hear a
cryptic squeak that sounds like one flea giving another the Bronx cheer.

It could be the beginning of the end.

[=] © 1995 Peter Langston []