The Surprise Attraction Behind Magnetic Termite Mounds, Australia


Jan 30

Blue skies in AustraliaAh, how the science of language confounds us. Three words, two feelings. At least that’s how it is for me.

Magnetic termite mounds

The first word speaks of mystery, magic and a heart fluttering chemistry. Termites, meanwhile, tell tales of corrosion, erosion and an itchy sense of unease at the sound of scuttling in the night. And then there’s “mound,” which barely bothers to register as a word in its own right at all.

Magnetic termite mounds. This unlikely trio of words bounced around my head on the drive to Litchfield Park, Northern Territory.

I didn’t feel terribly excited.

But when they weren’t bouncing around, they were flashing past on road signs and gliding along beside me. Magnetic termite mounds, magnetic wormite clowns, magnetic marmite crowns…

I was jetlagged and tired.

Termite mound close-up

The earth turned rust red while the sky scratched deep into the blue pools in my eyes. Grass scrubbed the land and burning dust scrubbed my lungs.

I walked from the car and followed the voices. Children, adults, bloggers, guides. All dwarf-like amid house-high cartoonesque mounds.

Termite mounds.

Non magnetic termite mound

Abi next to Termite Mound

Cheesy photo to show scale…

Yes, termite mounds. Solid, towering termite mounds.

But they weren’t the ones I was after. For while they were indeed termite mounds, they were not magnetic.

They were not magnetic

Nor, it turns out disappointingly, are the ones that carry the name.

When I found them, these slender grey tombstones that rise from the earth, my buzzing mental chatter fell quiet.

One after the other, knife edge to knife edge, flat shadow to flat shadow, they stretched across the ground, a graveyard of military ghosts. No wonder those early explorers called them magnetic, a field of upright needles aligned along a meridian of the sun.

But, as it turns out, magnets and magnetism have nothing to do with it. This arrangement is nature’s answer to the problem of termite air conditioning. By aligning themselves with the journey of the sun, these termites ensure that the temperature stays even over the course of the ferociously hot day and subsequent cold night.

Captivating. Beautiful. Cool. Dry

The words wriggled and raced no more. Instead, they fell into formation and fell into sense.

Magnetic termite mounds. One of nature’s greatest attractions.

Magnetic Termite Mounds004

Magnetic Termite Mounds

Magnetic Termite Mounds

Magnetic Termite Mound

Magnetic Termite Mound

Landscape Litchfield National Park

Disclosure: I travelled to Litchfield Park with assistance from Tourism NT. As I’m sure you can gather from the way this piece is written, all views are my own.


About the Author

Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more. Find out more.

  • Christina says:

    Oh, I love your description of the termite mounts. Yes, “mount” doesn’t cover it quite and I had the same tomb stone impression!
    Did you go to the river? I forgot the name of the place, but locals use it for cooling down in the wet…

    • Abi says:

      I went to plenty of rockpools surrounded by waterfalls. Cool and beautiful…until I saw the signs saying that crocodiles only swam there at particular times of year!

  • Wends of Journeys and Travels says:

    I never knew termite mounds will looked awesome when they are standing together. I was fascinated by this.

  • Gayla says:

    These are extraordinary! Nature’s Stonehenge. Yet, these Magnetic Termite Mounds also resemble Native American totem poles. I can almost make out face shapes in the ridges. Truly remarkable. Thanks for sharing this amazing bit of nature.

    • Abi says:

      Ooh yes, I like that description. Nature’s Stonehenge – spot on!

  • Renate says:

    It looks amazing! I haven`t seen something like that in my life. One more task for my travel list – to see Magnetic Termite Mounds!

    • Abi says:

      Once you get close to them, you can’t miss them! Enjoy!

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