, Volume 48, Issue 3, pp 238-244

Caste-specificity of pheromone trails in the termite Macrotermes bellicosus

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The existence of caste-specific pheromone trails in the two worker castes of Macrotermes bellicosus, as assumed from earlier work, was investigated in the laboratory by means of a previously developed parallel trail testing device.¶Foraging trails, i.e. trails leading to a food source, established by only minor workers were more attractive to both minor and major workers than foraging trails established by a mixed population. Foraging trails comprise information about the existence of food which can apparently be transmitted by minor workers via trail pheromones. This information is picked up only by major workers as an attractive cue for orientation. Minor workers pay no attention to such information about food. They always prefer trails established by only minor workers regardless of whether these trails lead to a food or to a soil arena. One possible hypothetical explanation for the weaker attractiveness of foraging trails established by a mixed population is that major workers may lay down a pheromone component which has an antagonistic effect on the stimulating trail laid by minor workers.¶A speculative mechanism of communicative orientation under natural circumstances is discussed on the basis of these experimental results.