Tabletop Termites

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May 10, 2019

Art imitates life? With Termitat, people can “enjoy” termites in their home or office without threat of costly termite damage.

Termites have found ways to adapt and thrive for, some estimate, more than 200 million years, living in soil, dry or damp wood and occasionally invading structures. Now, however, some Pacific dampwood termites, Zootermopsis angusticollis, have a new home in Termitat, a tabletop display that allows people to watch a small colony chew their way through wood.

ORIGINS. Termitat was created by Christopher Poehlmann, who developed the idea after designing habitats for other species of social insects for a San Francisco natural history museum. “I discovered this species, the Pacific dampwood termite, while doing the research for this project,” Poehlmann said. “I decided then that this species would make an ideal display animal for a desktop exhibit for home, office, school and museum.”

He added that these termites are ideal because they are large, easy to observe, function well in small colony sizes and are relatively easy to collect in the forests of the West Coast.

Poehlmann began a Kickstarter funding campaign in 2015 and was able to start his online Termitat business by the end of that year. Since then, Termitat has been marketed toward anyone who has an appreciation for the natural world, including “schools, universities, educators, pest control service operators, natural history institutions and those enlightened Homo sapiens that are curious about a fellow species that has also figured out the most successful organization strategy for survival in Earth: sociality,” said Poehlmann.

“My favorite customer is one who hears about the idea and is immediately fascinated by it.” Those are the “wow” people versus the “eww” people, he said.

MAINTENANCE. Termitat comes in two designs, the Tripod Model and the Tower model, $125 and $150, respectively. Both models include a 32-page illustrated manual for directions and a water syringe for maintenance. Poehlmann said that maintaining Termitat is simple; owners only need to add a small amount of non-chlorinated water every two weeks with the syringe. Termitat should be kept in a cool spot that does not receive direct sunlight.

“The termites are very industrious and keep everything tidy, organized, sealed against too much air movement and nothing is wasted, so the expired colony members are consumed,” Poehlmann said. “Instructions for the occasional watering and placement selection are easy and included.”

The water is deposited in a recessed hole at the top of the display and keeps the Pacific dampwood termites in their preferred environment of damp wood, which allows for optimal viewing of termite activity. Once the wood slice has been chewed through, Poehlmann said Termitats can be returned to him, and a new wood slice, molded ring and colony, if needed, is installed for a small fee. The Termitat is then returned via USPS Priority Mail.

Poehlmann added that there is no worry of termites escaping the Termitat because the case around the wood slice is constructed of ¼-inch acrylic, and one has yet to be broken.

MESSAGE. The appeal of Termitat, Poehlmann said, is that it gives people (not PMPs!) a glance into a world they would not normally have access to and can teach about scientific topics such as adaptation, biology, evolution and sociology.

“We are a fellow species with the termites on this big, universal experiment involving life forms on a water planet flying around a star,” he said. “It might be a great idea to learn and appreciate some of the great success stories in this experiment. These stories will instill a wonder and awe in this big picture and might even give us clues as to how to make our own story one of long-term survival and continuing higher evolutionary success.”

To learn more, visit https://termitat.com. — Kierra Sondereker