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Almost anywhere in highland Cordillera, when someone is known to be nearing his/her natal day, friends expectantly and cheerily say, “Happy Birthday. Let’s go eat your house!”
It’s not literally your house your friends mean to chew, but what’s prepared on the table.
In the case of termites, or “anay” as called and known by highlanders and lowlanders, however, eating your house made of wood is literally yummy to them.
A standard method of controlling subterranean termites is with the use of chemicals like insecticide or fungicide and applied to the soil between wood structures and termite colonies in the ground.
But treatment often depends on the skill of the applicator, type, dosage of chemical used and the degree of infestation. Meaning, in other words, the more dosage of chemical needed to be used to attain a degree of success in eliminating termites.
But many hate using chemicals that can contaminate home’s environs and cause medical problems to family members as well as degrade environmental structure.
What then to do? Well, if termites are a problem in your life, turn the table on them with the advice: eat ‘em. Ya! We eat them darned pests.
But Whoa! Hold up thar a minute! Not because Ah Kong says you can eat termites and off you go hunting all the termites you can see.
Such no nonsense advice come from technologists of the government’s former Forests Products Research and Industries Development Commission (FOREPRIDECOM) under the National Science Development Board (NSDB), but now renamed Forest Products Research and Development Institute (FPRDI) and with the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).
Bottom line is: as with ants, edible termites are those usually found in the house, around the house, in the garden patch, nearby where old or abandoned structures are, or in agricultural fields.
Experts of the research outfit, however, caution that not all termites found outdoors and indoors in Cordillera, the lowlands as well as in other areas in the Philippines are edible.
Thus far, only two kinds of termites have been deemed as fit for human consumption. These are scientifically identified as “Microcerotermes los banosensis” and “Microtermes gilvus.” Both are of the winged types.
A description of the two edible termites:
Microcerotermes los banosensis got its name from the place where it was first seen in 1920 – in Los Banos, a municipality in the province of Laguna.
However, long before government experts have identified Microcerotermes los banosensis, rural Filipino farmers were already ingeniously utilizing the termites, collecting M. los banosensis eggs as food as well as feed for chickens and livestock.
Government experts have found out that M. los banosensis is the least destructive among the economically important subterranean termites in the Philippines.
M. los banosensis is a relatively small termite and can be differentiated from other termites by their rectangular heads and long hornlike mandibles which are very conspicuous. They are more tolerant to areas with low moisture conditions. They are light in color.
As to their habitat, they are usually found in dead tree stumps or abandoned man-made wooden structures. They seldom attack residential buildings with people in them.
But when they do, this specie feeds on wood that is softer or lighter. They build their nest underground, on ground surface, bases of trees or in beams or walls of houses.
M. los banosensis often builds semi-cylindrical runways on exposed surfaces of trees, walls, logs, posts, dead branches or other torn-down wood parts of houses.
The second, Microtermes gilvus is the most common mound building termite found either in highland Cordillera or the lowlands. In high elevations or densely forested areas like the Cordillera, M. gilvus often is a problem.
It’s considered the second most destructive termite in the Philippines and is widely distributed. This specie is what immediately comes to the mind of Filipinos when the word, termite, is mentioned.
M. gilvus is a serious pest in suburban and rural environments, attacking houses, fences, posts, utility poles, abandoned buildings, etc. Their food is varied. In the absence of wood source, they feed on grass, dry leaves, bark and other plant matter.
As the wood is consumed, the empty spaces are filled up with soil, maintaining its size and shape.
M. gilvus and M. los banosensis are both sensitive to changes in the weather, particularly humid or onset of rainy season. It drives them out from their hiding places as they swarm out in great numbers for the purpose of mating and establishing new colonies.
Termites fly once in their lifetime to mate and die. Young termites are called nymphs and often mistaken by us for white ants.
Termites have soft bodies, are slow moving and sensitive to light and dryness. Termites can live for several years before developing into adults.
These adults are the ones which give us problems- eating into the wood. Possessed of a certain type of protozoa or microscopic one-celled animal residing in their intestines, the protozoa digest the cellulose in the wood eaten by the termites.
Termite reproduction is through egg-laying. Hatched, the nymphs feed on droppings and molting of the adult. In molting, the lining of the intestines of adults are discarded and this is the way the nymphs acquire the protozoa guest when they eat the discarded intestine linings.
Best time you can see these termites is when a first typhoon is imminent. These winged insects immediately abandon places where they are secreted to find warmer climes. In their bid to escape, usually done in the late afternoon or when darkness starts to settle, thousands, if not, millions of them, perish.
Often in your homes, you get a pail of water and put it near the light bulb where they swirl, in the process drowning the termites. If you put off they light, the get disoriented and fly aimlessly until they fall to the ground – dead.
In the morning, one can discern thousands of wings scattered around your house, on the streets or nearly everywhere.
As with ants, termites can be cooked in a variety of ways: fried, steamed, roasted or boiled.
In actual cooking tests done by the technologists, they were able to make burgers and omelets from the termites. More importantly, the technologists who were formerly with FOREPRIDECOM proved that the two termites were, not only palatable but indeed, nutritious.
Findings by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) on the termites proved the FORPRIDECOM technologists correct.
For 100 grams of the edible portion of the termites, FNRI found: carbohydrates, 8.3 grams; protein, 6.5; ash, 2.2; fats, 1.2; phosphorus, 113 milligrams; iron, 96.2; Vitamin A, 85; calcium, 31; niacin, 1.3; riboflavin, 0.98, and thiamin, 0.04.
Filipinos have been eating termites in the past. In highland Cordillera, for example, the experts cited about the culinary practice of the indigenous tribe folks who roast termites and eat them like peanuts or fry them, adding onions and garlic for added flavor. In like manner, the highlanders feed their chickens with live termites or add the termites in pig-slop.
In the forestry paper, “Edible Insects, Future prospects for Food and Feed Security,” of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN), FAO listed termites among the major group of edible insects, which include, among others, beetles, caterpillars, bees, wasps, ants, grasshoppers, locusts, crickets, cicadas, leafhoppers, plant hoppers, scale insects and true bugs.
FAO of the UN is the authority on topics pertaining to edible insects around the word because it deals exclusively on science, tested agriculture and multi-disciplinary interactions with various sectors on the matter of food.
And FAO never mentioned that rats, snakes and bats are edible.
For their being called a pest, termites, in the wilderness are nature’s ally. By eating dead and fallen matter, they return organic needs of the soil, improving its fertility and aerating it.
If they are a bane to humans, it is, after all, humans fault for having invaded their natural territory. There are about 54 known species of termites in the Philippines – 54 kinds unhesitant to chew and eat all what we possess and made of wood. – Bony A. Bengwayan