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Just like humans, animals must also communicate with one another in order to thrive as a species. Even tiny insects are sophisticated enough to communicate with other insects, and not always just the insects that make up their own species. As you can understand, communication is particularly important to social insects. Social insects operate on a colony-wide level that sees a constant flow of information being transmitted among colony members. Communication is instrumental for the construction of  large and structurally complicated nests, this is especially true for many termite species. Termites rely on two types of communication methods. One type of communication involves transmitting messages through the secretion of chemical pheromones that are sensed by other termites. The second communication method involves vibrational cues. Termites make use of both of these methods when under attack from invading predators.


When a termite nest is attacked, termites will send distress signals to alert the entire colony of the hostile situation. Termites transmit these alarm signals through both pheromonal and vibroacoustic signalling. Like many other social insects, termites use alarm signals in order to recruit termites into combat roles as well as to tell certain termites to hide in preparation for an attack. Alarm signalling pheromones originate from a soldier termite’s frontal gland secretions. Not only can these secretions transmit alarm signals, but they can also act as defensive chemicals against termite predators. Many of these secretions have been used in laboratory studies in order to determine how termite workers, soldiers and reproductives responded to certain chemical secretions. Alarm signalling pheromones prompted soldier and termite workers into running, with soldiers moving more rapidly than workers for obvious reasons. Termites will also run in zigzag motions within a nest in order to clear as much ground as possible. C. cyphergaster termite soldiers secrete chemicals from their lower glands which induce nervous and frantic itching and grooming behaviors even in large arthropods. In fact, these secretions even nauseate mammalian termite predators. At the same time that this compound is secreted, another compound is secreted from the termite’s frontal gland. These secretions transmit instructions to other termites concerning preparations for an impending or current attack by enemies.


Do you think that both vibratory and chemical communication behaviors are ever used simultaneously in termites?


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