I suppose I’m a bit of a nerd- having kept a termite colony nest in our ‘termitery’ for many years. It was the ‘dreaded’ Coptotermes acinaciformis, which we like to think we kept for scientific reasons, although we are not actually scientists and the truth is that we kept them out of curiosity and for fun. Our office staff had never actually seen a real termite, and certainly not the ‘dreaded’ kind, until we cultivated the new termite colony and soon they could show our more curious visitors and clients the difference between a soldier and worker castes and for the first time ever, pass as being scientific.
I took care of the colony, keeping the water levels up and feeding them very choicest timbers. The termites took a shine to Australian hardwoods such as E. regnans and had a clear preference for the larger blocks over thin stuff.
In all honesty, I could not recommend a termite colony to you as a pet. They tend to be wayward, and one Summer my termites found a route to the soil beneath the factory slab and emerged secretively inside my office wall. It cost me $12,000 to re-build the office, as well as a little skin off the ego. It was perhaps rough justice that the next summer holidays I forgot the heater was left ‘on’ and the poor termites overheated and every one of them died. It was very upsetting actually, but I decided on a replacement.
So, where do you find a replacement termite colony? Well- they are hard to come by, and none has come by’d so far despite our termite specialists being on the look-out for one. The trouble is that their nests tend to be in the middle of large trees, and these are not at all portable.
Then Alex (another termite man) walked in announcing his purchase of a European honey bee hive- and by the way- can he keep it at my place? Was this Karma or just a happy ending? We now share two honey bee colonies which are located on the East facing bank of our driveway to enjoy the morning sunshine and divebomb my son and fiancé as they dash heads down to their cars. We enjoy the beautiful garden honey and it makes us feel good to give sweet freebees to our friends and family.
I am not very scientific with bees either, and I have never actually managed to find the Queen bee. But I do look after them and feed them left-over honey and sugar through our winter and catch the nasty hive beetle in little traps. They caught me off guard last October when one colony split up and sent a swarm onto a nearby tree branch. They stayed there just long enough for me to call a bee club mate to come around and catch the new colony to start another life down in Warrandyte where a new keeper had just built a hive box.
The contrast between bees and termites is like day and night, flowers and fungus, flying and digging, wind and earth, flamboyant and secretive. They are opposites yet they both share their need for a Queen to provide leadership to them and she requires nurturing from them. They are both unknowable and make me feel humble about how little we know about their worlds.
So- if you are lucky enough to have the choice- go for the bee hive.