The World According to Termites (2017)
Original title: Svět podle termitů
52 min | Audio tracks : ENG & CZE Director : Jan Hošek
Producer : Marián Polák
Sound: Václav Flegl
Festivals : 1st winner Vaasa Wildlife Festival 2018
Grand Prix 2017 International Festival of Documentary Films on Life Sciences, Prague
The World According to Termites, could hardly find a more erudite host than Jan Šobotník, an expert on these small creatures who swarm the warmer climates of the whole world. It is an old evolutionary group, their direct relatives are cockroaches (don’t get your termites mixed up with ants, because ants are more related to bees); and if you thought that ants are some kind of tough guys, compared to termites they are losers. The complex termite communities have existed millions of years longer and their evolution strategy is more elaborate.
Compared to the armoured bodies of ants, termites have one disadvantage: their bodies are soft and they usually stand no chance against predators. That’s why their life takes place hidden inside a system of above-ground or under-ground tunnels. They live on vegetable food in all stages of decomposition – a termite community can liquidate a whole fallen tree or a wooden house – in the form of excrement termites return indigested elements to the soil from where other trees and plants can absorb the simple substances. As there are so many of them, in tropical forests termites work as an enormously effective recycling unit without which the whole system couldn’t function.
Jan Šobotník’s indispensable equipment includes a microscope as well as a machete. The World According to Termites show us both sides of his research work: cutting his way through the forest when setting termite bait, or capturing the lethal attack of Neocapritermes taracua in a lab with a technology capable of 140 000 fps – by the way we don’t know of any other creature who’d be capable of moving that fast.
However, termites are not interesting only because of the speed with which they can move their mandibles. You will see termites who sacrifice themselves for the community when attacked and who simply explode. You will find out how the caste system of a termite nest functions, how to calculate termite density of a particular area (you just sit and count… one thousand, two thousand, three thousand…) and you will learn that the first farmers in the world were… You guessed it.