, Volume 86, Issue 11, pp 544-548

Pathogen Alarm Behavior in a Termite: A New Form of Communication in Social Insects

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 Dampwood termites, Zootermopsis angusticollis, show an alarm response after detecting the presence of spores of the pathogenic fungus Metarhizium anisopliae. Termites in direct contact with a high concentration of spores (107 spores/ml) show a striking vibratory display which appears to convey information about the presence of pathogens to nearby unexposed nestmates through substrate vibration. Nestmates not directly in contact with spores that perceive the vibrational signal increase significantly their distance from the spore-exposed vibrating termites, apparently to escape from the source of infection. The fleeing response is not induced by the presence of the spores alone or by pheromones, and requires the perception of the vibrations propagated through the substrate. This "pathogen alarm behavior" appears to be a previously unrecognized communication mechanism that allows termites to reduce disease risks within the nest.

Received: 12 May 1999 / Accepted in revised form: 26 August 1999