Expanding and multiplying in the heart of the tropical landscape, the termitary, with its iron and amazingly ingenious laws, its vitality and terrifying fecundity, would constitute a menace to the human race and very soon cover our planet, had not chance or some strange caprice of nature-which rarely shows so much consideration for us-ordained that the insect should be extremely vulnerable and highly sensitive to the cold.
Nothing is proof against their ravages, which have something uncanny or supernatural about them, as they are always wrought in secret, and become manifest only at the sudden moment of disaster.
Tins of preserves were most scientifically attacked: the insects would first of all rasp away the tin layer covering them, then spread a juice over the exposed metal which rusted it, whereupon they bored through without any difficulty. A few days later, without anyone noticing, the glass has been worn away as though by an emery wheel, and the termites pass tranquilly to and from over the top and sides of the bottle, for they secrete a liquid which, dissolving the silica contained in the stalks of the grass they feed on, can also tackle glass. Here we have the explanation of the extraordinary solidity of their cement, which is partly vitrified.
All this work of destruction is accomplished without a living creature being seen. because of the safeguards that become necessary. Such are their domestic and normal depredations; but they will sometimes act on a larger scale, and extend their work of destruction to a town and whole countryside.
In 1840 Eutermes Tenuis, a small termite from Brazil that rears nasicorn or syringe soldiers, was brought into Jamestown, the capital of Saint Helena, on a captured and dismasted slaver; the insects destroyed a portion of the town, which had to be rebuilt. ix) quote an article by General Leclerc which states that, in 1809, the French Antilles were unable to defend themselves against the English because the termites had destroyed the magazines and put batteries and munitions out of use. The tale of their misdeeds could be indefinitely prolonged. In the island of Formosa the Coptotermes Formosus Shikari even gnaws away the mortar, and brings down walls which have not been cemented.
One would have thought that, the termites being so vulnerable, and fragile, and able to exist only in the darkness of their termitary, the destruction of their domes would suffice to get rid of them. The author of this work of destruction was one of the smallest termites known to us: the T. Lucifugus, three or four millimetres in length.