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Two Mutually Antagonistic Termite Species Can Peacefully Inhabit The Same Nest

Two Mutually Antagonistic Termite Species Can Peacefully Inhabit The Same Nest

It may come as a surprise to learn that two different, and even mutually hostile termite species can dwell within the same nest. In these situations there are “host” termites, which built the nest and were its first occupiers, and there are “inquiline” termites, which leech of of the hosts. Inquiline termites are like the lazy roommates to host termites. Today, scientists are still not sure how two mutually hostile termite species can coexist peacefully within one single nest. However, one particular study has shed some more light on how host and inquiline termites respond to specific situations. Do inquilines defend their hosts when they are at risk of a predatory attack? Or do inquilines only look after themselves in such situations? Can inquilines understand the communication that takes place between hosts? These questions have long puzzled many termite researchers.

Two entomology departments from two Brazilian Universities teamed up recently in order to study how two different species of termite behave while occupying the same nest. Much to the surprise of researchers, the two species were never found to engage in hostile relations, and the hosts seemed to tolerate their rude and uninvited guests. Most people are unaware that an entire class of termite inquilines exist. These termites are specialized to leech of other more productive termite species. In the recent study the Inquilinitermes microcerus species of termite inquiline was observed living with their hosts of the Constrictotermes cyphergaster species.

Termites often notify their nestmates of disturbances with alarm cues. These disturbances are often caused by invading predators. Termite alarm cues are communicated through vibrations or by pheromone release. The inquiline termites in the study were able to understand their host’s alarm cues, but instead of coming to the defense of their hosts, they acted selfishly by protecting only themselves. This is understandable, as any predator that is interested in the hosts are more than likely to be interested in the inquilines as well. However, the hosts were unable to recognize alarm cues that came from the inquilines. This suggests that termite inquilines have adapted to survive while inhabiting the nest of a host, but non-inquilines that don’t inhabit other nests have no reason for understanding the alarm cues of other termite species.

Do you believe that some inquilines may risk their lives fighting predators alongside their hosts in order to preserve the architectural integrity of the nest?