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From: Tim Myles t.myles@utoronto.ca

Re: Possible use of termites on spent mushroom substrate or other
agricultural byproducts. Spent mushroom substrate is likely to be an
excellent physical and nutritional medium for termites. Termites are the
main group of invertebrate animals that digest low-nutrient,
lignocellulosic, "brown" matter. We northern hemisphere biologists have
a profound blind spot when in comes to appreciating the stupendous
importance of termites in the carbon cycle. Termites are the major
animal bioconverters of plant cell wall matter into animal biomass on
this planet. I'll just repeat that: Termites are the major animal
bioconverters of plant cell wall matter into animal biomass on this
planet. In performing this they support a huge percentage of small
vertebrate insectivore biodiversity.

One popular misconception about termites is that they eat only wood.
This is true of only the most notorious pests. It is estimated that over
50% of all termite species are humivorous. Entire subfamilies of the
higher termite family Termitidae, such as the Apicotermitinae and
Termitinae are humivourous. Many other termites feed on surface litter,
dry leaves, grass, and even lichens. In arid areas, where animal dung
rapidly becomes too dry for dung flies and dung beetles, termites are
the major decomposers of herbivore dung. In fact, many of the most
abundant termites in arid and semi-arid regions of the world are dung
feeders. This is true in the American Southwest, where several species
of Amitermes, Gnathamitermes, and even Reticulitermes are commonly found
in dung. In fact, I am in the process of describing a new
dung-specialist genus which is found in the American southwest and
Northern Mexico.

Decompiculture, or the culturing of decomposer organisms, is the
inevitable next step in mankind's utilization of natural resources and
ecological integration in the biosphere. Large scale composting is the
first evidence that we are waking up to this ecological imperative.

The most important candidate decomposer organisms are bacteria,
actinomycetes, fungi, earthworms, termites, beetles and flies. Up until
now, these organisms (decomposers) have not been seen as sources of
production. Those of us who study these organisms tend to study the
relatively few that are pests. The majority however are beneficial and
essential cogs in the cycling of nutrients. Now that humankind has
progressed to the point of having numerous large organic waste streams
we must now develop intensive decomposition systems to match our
intensive production systems.

"Termite ranching" or termiticulture inevitably will be much more
important than vermiculture because termites are able to utilize lower
nutrient substrates, wood and humus. Termiticulture could probably be
easily integrated with mushroom production. However termites do not
develop quite as quickly as many other insects thus the start up time
might be several years before the population could consume at the rate
of spent compost delivery. Containment and rearing facilities would have
to take into account their social habits.

Termiticulture may not be feasible out of doors in the temperate part of
the northern hemisphere. The southern tier state of the US would be
adequate for a few genera such as Reticulitermes and Amitermes, but
large scale termiticulture would work best in conjunction with tropical
agriculture, especially wherever there is a large cellulosic waste
component in the food processing. Termite production could also be
integrated with dairy and livestock production as a manure management
system. Matching species to wastes and to stage of waste would be

If anyone knows of an innovative tropical agribusiness that would be
interested in putting up the capital for a pilot study, I'd like to hear
from them.


Tim Myles
Dr. Timothy G. Myles, Faculty of Forestry, University of Toronto, 33
Willcocks Street, Toronto, Ontario M5S 3B3, CANADA.
t.myles@utoronto.ca phone: (416) 978-5755
fax: (416) 978-2403 
home phone (905) 877-9351