In the heart of the Litchfield National Park in Darwin, there is a surreal site to behold. Towering mounds jut skywards among the lush vegetation, carving quirky silhouettes against the skyline. But these aren’t your average rock formations. These are actually termite mounds that have been lovingly made using the saliva, sand, and faeces of the bugs themselves.
Forming one of the park’s most impressive sights, the Cathedral Termite Mounds stand about four metres high (some surpass that and grow on to be eight metres high or more), which is considerably taller than the two metre Magnetic Termite Mounds that also dot the area, and can be around 100 years old. They’re unique to the northern parts of Australia, particularly in the Litchfield National Park, which lies 120km south of bustling Darwin.
While wandering through the forest canopies and the sun blushed scenery of the park, you’ll stumble across an open swathe of land peppered with these magnificent mounds. Boasting thin edges that point north to south and broad backs facing east to west, they minimise their exposure to sun in order to keep the resident termites cool inside.
There’s plenty of information to soak up about the termites and their mounds close to the site, including an information shelter that divulges fascinating facts about the creatures, their habitat, and their history in Australia.
A Bit About the Termites
These particular types of termite are often found in wet areas, where they build heir mounds on a north-south axis for maximum solar absorption. They need a consistent amount of warmth and humidity, which this layout provides.
To create the mounds, the termites cut up grass stalks and store them around the outer chambers of the mound, foraging from underground and displacing the sediment on the ground. As the mound begins to grow, the termites fill the outer chambers with soil and start again on the next level. Meanwhile, a group of “soldier” termites defend the mound with their saliva – a transparent, sticky liquid that captures any predators in the vicinity.
Termites thrive in open savannah woodland and survive on grass. The mounds can live for around 50 to 100 years, and the queen lives for the entire life of the mound.
The Cathedral Termite Mounds are located about 17km from the eastern edge of Litchfield National Park. There is a viewing area with boardwalks where you can wander amongst the mounds and learn more about the fascinating structures and their inhabitants. The smaller, two-metre high mounds are Magnetic Termite Mounds, while the taller, four-metre mounds are Cathedral Termite Mounds.
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