Eavesdropping helps termites evade predatory kin


Both species eat dry wood and can co-exist in the same tree but each dry wood termite colony has just 200 members, confined to a single tree.
But colonies of the dominant wood-eating termite contain around a million members, including thousands of aggressive soldiers, and can forage upto 20 trees simultaneously.
“We already knew that chewing termites generate vibrations which they use to determine wood size and quality, so it seemed possible that one species could detect another using these vibrations,” Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) entomologist Theo Evans, who led the study, said.
“Because vibration signals move rapidly through wood and can be detected from a distance, the vulnerable species have an eavesdropping advantage as they can detect their aggressive relatives without having to come into contact with them,” said Evans.
This advantage became apparent in a trial where aggressive counterparts bored through an inch of wood to kill their milder kin.
This research was recently published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

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