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Termites are well known for being social insects, like bees and ants. This basically means that termites work together in order to survive. For termites, it is the survival of a colony that is important, and not the survival of individual termites. Although termites are considered social insects, they do not demonstrate many advanced behaviors that could be considered human. Unless, of course, we are talking about the act of kissing. The act of kissing seems incongruous to a termite’s nature to say the least. Obviously, termites do not express romantic feelings through kissing, but they do indulge in a behavior that closely resembles the act. After researchers noticed a termite species making mouth-to-mouth contact, they jokingly referred to the peculiar behavior as “kissing”. Later on, these researchers learned that this mouth-to-mouth contact is necessary for sharing water with other colony members.

Not long ago a professor of animal physiology at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, J. Scott Turner, noticed termites “kissing” after they had indulged in intricate rituals. These rituals involved grooming and begging. Understandably, Turner was intrigued by the finding, and being a rational man of science, turner did not believe that this mouth-to-mouth activity was proof that termites kiss just like humans. In order to determine the purpose of this behavior, Turner added a die to the termite’s water supply in order to track its distribution throughout the colony. It turned out that this “kissing” behavior is actually a method of distributing water to thirsty termites within a colony.

All termite species require abundant water sources in order to survive. For this reason termite nests are built in regions where water is easily accessible. Sometimes, however, termites that inhabit dry areas of a nest become dehydrated. When this occurs one, or a few individual termites will carry water from a wet area to a dry area. The termites then transport the water from termite-to-termite via their mouthparts, similar to humans passing buckets of water down a line from person-to-person. This may seem impossible, but termites can drink half of their own weight in water in just one trip to a water source. This means that water can be transported to dehydrated termites quickly. This process is so effective that it changes a termite mound’s moisture levels dramatically.

Do you know of any non-social insect species that demonstrates altruistic behavior in certain situations?

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