Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Don't let your termites grow up to be mommies: Researchers find 'key ingredient' that regulates termite caste system

Date:
July 9, 2010
Source:
North Carolina State University
Summary:
An entomologist has for the first time shown which specific chemicals are used by some termite queens to prevent other termites in the colony from becoming mommies like themselves.

A combination of two chemical compounds in a pheromone perfume emitted by egg-laying females known as secondary queens can inhibit other termites from developing into new queens, researchers have found.
Credit: iStockphoto/Michael Pettigrew

A North Carolina State University entomologist has for the first time shown which specific chemicals are used by some termite queens to prevent other termites in the colony from becoming mommies like themselves.

In a study published online in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, NC State's Dr. Ed Vargo and colleagues from Japan and Switzerland show that a combination of two chemical compounds in a pheromone perfume emitted by egg-laying females known as secondary queens can inhibit other termites from developing into new queens. Moreover, the study shows that termite eggs also produce the caste-altering chemicals.

"This study opens up a whole new world into the mechanisms behind the ways colonies of termites and other social insects regulate themselves," Vargo says. "With this long missing key ingredient now in hand, I expect we'll see rapid progress in understanding how reproductive and nonreproductive termite castes develop."

Secondary queens don't prevent other termites in the colony from becoming mommies out of spite, Vargo says. It's more a case of keeping the colony balanced with the correct numbers of caste members. Colonies need the proper proportion of workers who forage for food and take care of larvae, soldiers who defend the colony, and secondary queens who lay eggs to increase a colony's numbers. The wrong balance could spell doom for the colony.

Termites molt frequently throughout their lives and can change castes depending on conditions in the colony. In the study, the scientists exposed different castes of termites that have the capacity to become secondary queens to both the actual pheromone perfume elicited from secondary queens and a synthetic version of the perfume. Both treatments prevented termites from becoming secondary queens.

Scientists have long believed that queen pheromones regulate caste development in social insects, but this finding is only the second such discovery in the past 50 years -- when the term pheromone was coined by scientists. This is partly due, Vargo says, to scientists looking for the wrong types of chemicals.

"The pheromone -- a combination of two chemicals called n-butyl-n-butyrate and 2-methyl-1-butanol -- is a low-weight, volatile blend that acts directly on developing termites," he says. That is in contrast to queen honey bees, for example, whose pheromone acts indirectly by regulating the queen-rearing behavior of worker bees.

NC State's Department of Entomology is part of the university's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by North Carolina State University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. K. Matsuura, C. Himuro, T. Yokoi, Y. Yamamoto, E. L. Vargo, L. Keller. Identification of a pheromone regulating caste differentiation in termites. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2010; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1004675107

Cite This Page:

North Carolina State University. "Don't let your termites grow up to be mommies: Researchers find 'key ingredient' that regulates termite caste system." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 July 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/07/100708152103.htm>.
North Carolina State University. (2010, July 9). Don't let your termites grow up to be mommies: Researchers find 'key ingredient' that regulates termite caste system. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/07/100708152103.htm
North Carolina State University. "Don't let your termites grow up to be mommies: Researchers find 'key ingredient' that regulates termite caste system." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/07/100708152103.htm (accessed July 30, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: Thousands Flocking to German Crop Circle

Raw: Thousands Flocking to German Crop Circle

AP (July 30, 2014) Thousands of people are trekking to a Bavarian farmer's field to check out a mysterious set of crop circles. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Concern Grows Over Worsening Ebola Crisis

Concern Grows Over Worsening Ebola Crisis

AFP (July 30, 2014) Pan-African airline ASKY has suspended all flights to and from the capitals of Liberia and Sierra Leone amid the worsening Ebola health crisis, which has so far caused 672 deaths in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Duration: 00:43 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
At Least 20 Chikungunya Cases in New Jersey

At Least 20 Chikungunya Cases in New Jersey

AP (July 30, 2014) At least 20 New Jersey residents have tested positive for chikungunya, a mosquito-borne virus that has spread through the Caribbean. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Otters Enjoy Water Slides at Japan Zoo

Raw: Otters Enjoy Water Slides at Japan Zoo

AP (July 30, 2014) River otters were hitting the water slides to beat the summer heatwave on Wednesday at Ichikawa City's Zoological and Botanical Garden. (July 30) Video provided by AP
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:
from the past week

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