Wildlife photographer Jeff Cremer got a big surprise recently when he checked a camera trap that he had left in the Amazon jungle to film rare animals. When he got to the camera he saw that a colony of termites were nesting inside and around it, destroying it in the process.
“At first I thought that they only got at the outside of the camera and that it would be fine,” he said. “But when I took the lens off, I saw that they were inside the camera and had started building on the lens as well. They even started eating the memory card that was inside the camera.”
Jeff is a wildlife photographer who is affiliated with Rainforest Expeditions in the jungle of southeastern Peru. Last year he discovered a spider that makes a little Stonehenge around its egg sac, and other crazy stuff, like a “slingshot spider.”
His camera traps are remotely activated cameras that are equipped with a motion sensor or an infrared sensor as a trigger. Camera trapping is used to photograph wild animals when researchers are not present, and has been used in ecological research for decades.
The termites he found appear to be nasutiform termites. Soldiers of nasute termites lack mandibles, and instead they have prolonged beaks. The termite genus Nasutitermes is widely distributed all over the tropical regions, and there are about 70 species in the neotropics.
When asked about the termites nesting in the camera, termite specialist Lucas Carnohan said, “I’d guess they weren’t particularly drawn to the camera so much as Jeff happened to put the camera on the ground in a place with a lot of active termites. So they did what termites do and put muddy termite poo tunnels all over it while exploring the new terrain.”
Termites are important decomposers in tropical forest ecosystems. They affect the landscape and soil composition by breaking down the biomass with the aid of resident gut microbiota.
“In the Amazon, every single niche is exploited, including Canon camera bodies,” said entomologist Aaron Pomerantz. “Maybe because Jeff weather-proofed it so well, the termites found it to be a suitable fortress to colonize.”
Fortunately, the memory card survived and Jeff got some nice photos, which you can see below: