After the first rains have fallen in the Okavango another of the wonders of this place shows to the world when millions of winged creatures emerge from their hiding places in the large mounds that are so much a part of the Okavango. Termites emerge in their millions, most of which are preyed on by birds, reptiles and small carnivorous mammals. It has even been noted on occasion that lions have taken part in the feeding frenzy.
What these winged creatures actually are, are the aletes of the fungus termite that plays such a huge role in the Okavango eco-system. The huge mounds that dot the landscape of Northern Botswana are the nests of these fungus termites, so named because they live off dead organic matter.
The mounds of the fungus termites in the Okavango Delta seem to be larger than anywhere else in Africa and they are a dominant feature of the delta. The reason for the mounds seeming to be larger is because of the water table in the delta, and because the water is very close to the surface the termites have to build the main part of their nest above the water table to prevent the nest from been flooded.
With the first rains the aletes are released in their tens of thousands and females attempt to attract males through a pheromone release. When a pair finds each other they immediately dig a hole in the ground and begin the nest. From that time the sole purpose of the female is to lay eggs to ensure the survival of the nest.
The question has often been asked as to why the termite nests are not flooded and drowned with the arrival of the floodwaters. The answer to this lies in another unique aspect of the Okavango - that the main floodwaters only reach the system in the dry season, often six months after the last rains have fallen.
This allows the termites enough time to waterproof the nest and collect enough food to survive until the waters subside. The rains in the area do not do much for the water table, instead assist the termite in making the ground softer for easier initial construction of the chambers underground.
The termite mounds are a feature of the landscape across most of Northern Botswana but it is in the Okavango Delta that the immense structures can be seen in more detail. Most lodges and camps will have termite mounds in the vicinity, and if not then a game drive will ensure that you get a view of these structures.
The guides of Botswana are generally well informed about the termites and their activities and they will spend some time explaining the intricacies to you. Thought to be one of only two creatures, together with the cockroach, that will survive a nuclear holocaust the termite id truly one of the wonders of nature.