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Researchers Discover How Termites Recognize Queens And Kings

Researchers Discover How Termites Recognize Queens And Kings

When it comes to living in a society ruled by queens and kings, the peasantry does not regard the royal pair as being one of them. It turns out that this is also true for social insects living within a colony. For years researchers have observed how worker termites treat queens and kings differently than their fellow workers. The way that a worker or soldier termite behaves around a queen termite is markedly different than all other forms of termite worker behavior. Although this behavioral difference has been observed ever since the study of termites began, researchers have never been able to provide a scientific explanation for the unique behaviors that worker termites exhibit toward their queen. Now, and for the first time in history, scientists have found an explanation for the special way in which queen and king termites are treated by their colony’s underlings.

Termite behavior is complex, so uncovering the mechanisms behind termite behavior is not an easy task. Until recently, scientists have never learned how non-royal termites even recognize a queen or a king. Since non-royal termites are almost always blind, they cannot possibly recognize the royal pair visually. Therefore another sensory mechanism must be responsible for this differentiation. According to Coby Schal of North Carolina State University, non-royal termites recognize their colony’s royal pairs through secretions emitted by queens and kings.

Royal termites excrete a wax-like substance known as heneicosane. This chemical alerts termite workers of a nearby royal presence. This study marks the first time that a queen-recognition pheromone has been found among termites. This is also the first time that a king-recognizing pheromone has been found in any insect species. Other social insects such as bees, ants and social wasps also use hydrocarbon signalling to identify royal colony members. The researchers in charge of this study believe that “royal pheromones” first developed in termites one hundred and fifty million years ago, which was long before other social insects came into existence. The presence of similar royal pheromones in other social insects serves as an example of convergent evolution.

Do you think that pheromones are used as a form of communication between unrelated and non-social insects more often than is currently known?