Herp enthusiasts are, along with entomologists and exterminators, the only people who actively seek out termites – but we have good reason. These insects (fascinating in their own right, by the way) are a valuable food source for a number of reptiles and amphibians. Termites are particularly important for poison frogs, and form a major component of the natural diet of many species.
Termites are a valuable food for small terrarium animals, and for the young of others, because our options are limited with regard to such creatures. Most consume a wide variety of prey in the wild, but in captivity must make due with pinhead crickets, fruit flies and springtails. I have used termites to feed the young of a number of reptiles and amphibians (other than poison frogs) including five-lined skinks, flying frogs, marbled salamanders and others too numerous to mention, as well as species which remain small as adults (alpine newts, spring peepers, dusky salamanders etc.). The rapid decline of many animals imposes upon us an obligation to become more effective in our captive breeding efforts – I urge you to experiment with termites and other insects.
To make a termite trap, simply take a plastic storage box – the shoebox size works well – and cut several holes of 2-3 inches in diameter into the 4 sides. Stuff the box with damp cardboard and you’re all set (termites relish cardboard – I guess if your normal diet is wood, something softer seems like a treat!).
Search for termite nests beneath rotting logs and under the bark of dead trees. Your trap should be located about a foot away from the nest, buried so that the top of the box is flush with the ground’s surface. Cover the lid with a thin layer of earth and secure with a rock. The termites will establish feeding tunnels to the box. Remove the termite–laden cardboard from time to time, but leave the box in place so as not to disturb the tunnels. Those more mechanically skilled than I may wish to construct PVC tube-within-a-tube systems with screw-off tops, but the plastic box works just fine.
For those of you with wide interests – termites are also eagerly consumed by tropical fish, finches, red-crested cardinals, sunbirds, bulbuls and other cage birds, and invertebrates such as whip scorpions, ground beetles and flower mantids. The termite life cycle is very complex – escaped workers (those individuals that you will catch) cannot establish new colonies in your home – any termites that may infest your home will arrive courtesy of a colonizing queen, so please don’t blame me!
Interesting correspondence between hobbyists using termites as frog food (and a man who has trained his dog to detect termites!) is posted at: http://www.utoronto.ca/forest/termite/Decompiculture/Decompiculture/Termiticulture_emails.htm