Our front garden must be an enormous colony for subterranean termites. I imagine they obtain some moisture from underground – there certainly has not been much above ground for months! I recently illustrated hundreds of alates emerging on a particularly humid day.
On Monday my attention was drawn to the same spot in the garden when I saw a pair of Olive Thrushes feasting on something there. They would peck at the ground, fly away and returned often enough for me to become curious. The normally hard section of earth was covered with light-coloured grains of sand sprinkled with tiny white specks and there were several termites about. That is possibly what the thrushes were eating. I rubbed a little white speck between my fingers and it disintegrated in a squishy sort of way. The air was humid and the temperature of the day was hot. I wondered idly if the termites had brought their eggs to the surface (why?) and if this presaged rain for us at last.
It transpires that these were not eggs after all, yet rain poured down on Tuesday, accompanied by a light sprinkling of hail and a rush of wind. None of this lasted very long and only yielded 15 mm in the rain gauge. The compacted, dry soil could not absorb the water fast enough and so fierce rivulets tore through the garden and in doing so washed away whatever I had seen re the termites the day before.
Yesterday the strange light-coloured mounds were back, spreading far into the lawn and again sprinkled with these minute white specks.
A completely different and unexpected sight greeted me this morning: swathes of tiny mushrooms!
I do not know what kind of mushrooms these are, although I am aware that termites keep fungus gardens underground and assume that the light coloured soil must have been pushed to the surface by them. According to African Insect Life by S.H. Skaife, termites may bring material from the fungus beds to the surface after rains. They then spread it in the shade on the surface near their nest. The small white mushrooms develop very quickly, produce spores that are dispersed by the wind and then die.
These mushrooms have opened out in the bright sunshine.