Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Termites Feed Through Good Vibrations

Date:
March 1, 2005
Source:
CSIRO Australia
Summary:
The discovery that termites use vibrations to choose the wood they eat may provide opportunities to new methods of reducing infestations in homes and also may provide insights into the "cocktail party effect" of signal processing – how to ignore most noise but have some signals that trigger attention – that may prove useful in artificial intelligence.

Drywood termite workers biting pine softwood.
Credit: Photo courtesy of CSIRO Australia

The discovery that termites use vibrations to choose the wood they eat may provide opportunities to new methods of reducing infestations in homes and also may provide insights into the "cocktail party effect" of signal processing – how to ignore most noise but have some signals that trigger attention – that may prove useful in artificial intelligence.

CSIRO entomologist Theo Evans says laboratory experiments have found that termites use their ability to detect vibrations to determine which food source is most suitable. The termites can also detect how the vibrations are made. This ability could be likened to a form of sonar.

Dr Evans says different termite species are known to prefer eating particular sizes of wood; certain drywood termites prefer small blocks, presumably to avoid competition. With Professor Joseph Lai and his students from the University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy, Dr Evans investigated how the blind insects measured pieces of wood.

They recorded the vibrations of worker drywood termites as they fed on large and small wood blocks. Dr Evans then broadcast the recorded vibrations made by termites from the large blocks into small blocks and found that the termites switched their preference to the large blocks. Prof Lai created an artificial signal similar to that made by the termites chewing the large block, which Dr Evans broadcast into small blocks and the scientists found that the termites had no preference for either large or small blocks. Broadcasting static into small blocks did not affect termite choice, showing that the termites were not interested in random noise.

These results show two responses by the termites: one to block size and a second to signal source. The artificial signal mimicked the characteristic frequency of the wooden block, so the termites were tricked into believing that a small block with the artificial signal was the same size as a large block; thus no preference was observed. However, the signal from the termites feeding on large blocks had this characteristic frequency plus other signals indicating the presence of other termites in that "large block", so they chose to feed on the large block without termites. Thus the termites showed that they have the "cocktail party effect".

This social information had another important effect: limiting reproduction potential. Most termite workers are sterile; they don't breed. However, in drywood termites, workers can become fertile and develop into breeders when they are isolated from their colony. Few workers developed into breeders in the experiments when they were broadcast the termite sourced signals, whereas many workers developed into breeders when artificial signals were broadcast, or when no signals were broadcast.

Scientists are hoping to find ways to interfere with the termites' ability to select wood in order to reduce the economic impact of termite damage. "There is a common perception that termites are voracious and indiscriminate eaters, consuming all the wood that they find," Dr Evans says. "But the reality is that termites are selective feeders and choose their food very carefully. The palatability of the wood species and hardness is important as are defensive chemicals made by the plant. But our work shows that this is not the only method of assessment. There are many accounts of termites not consuming a piece of palatable wood."

###

Listen to termites walking and chewing pine http://www.csiro.au/audio/termite_Feb05.mp3

Termite pictures:

http://www.scienceimage.csiro.au/index.cfm?event=site.image.detail&id=2583

http://www.scienceimage.csiro.au/index.cfm?event=site.image.detail&id=2584


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by CSIRO Australia. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

CSIRO Australia. "Termites Feed Through Good Vibrations." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 March 2005. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/02/050224123058.htm>.
CSIRO Australia. (2005, March 1). Termites Feed Through Good Vibrations. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 1, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/02/050224123058.htm
CSIRO Australia. "Termites Feed Through Good Vibrations." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/02/050224123058.htm (accessed October 1, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Cultural Learning In Wild Chimps Observed For The First Time

Cultural Learning In Wild Chimps Observed For The First Time

Newsy (Oct. 1, 2014) — Cultural transmission — the passing of knowledge from one animal to another — has been caught on camera with chimps teaching other chimps. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Earth Has Lost Half Its Vertebrate Wildlife Since 1970: WWF

Earth Has Lost Half Its Vertebrate Wildlife Since 1970: WWF

Newsy (Sep. 30, 2014) — A new study published by the World Wide Fund for Nature found that more than half of the world's wildlife population has declined since 1970. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Dolphins Might Use Earth's Magnetic Field As A GPS

Dolphins Might Use Earth's Magnetic Field As A GPS

Newsy (Sep. 30, 2014) — A study released Monday suggests dolphins might be able to sense the Earth's magnetic field and possibly use it as a means of navigation. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
How To Battle Stink Bug Season

How To Battle Stink Bug Season

Newsy (Sep. 30, 2014) — Homeowners in 33 states grapple with stink bugs moving indoors at this time of year. Here are a few tips to avoid stink bug infestations. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins