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Burial behaviour by dealates of the termite Pseudacanthotermes spiniger (Termitidae, Macrotermitinae) induced by chemical signals from termite corpses

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In order to maintain healthy colonies, termite workers dispose of the cadavers of dead nest mates by cannibalism, burial, or necrophoresis. However, when multiple reproductives found a new colony by pleometrosis, there are no worker castes at the early stages of the foundation to eliminate or isolate the corpses. In this study, we showed that in young pleometrotic colonies, reproductives of Pseudacanthotermes spiniger had the ability to perform this task. Because of the claustral conditions, and the potential inability of the dealates to feed on their own, their behaviour was restricted to the burial of the cadaver within the initial chamber. This burial behaviour, previously not reported in the reproductive caste of termites, appeared to be induced by chemical signals released by the corpses during decomposition, among which various fatty acids, indole and phenol were the most active. The burial finally resulted in the physical isolation of corpses, thus reducing the chances for opportunistic pathogens to spread among the rest of the individuals.

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We thank Paul Bardunias (University of Florida) for reviewing the manuscript, two anonymous reviewers for their valuable suggestions and Odile Bonnard for technical assistance. This study was part of T. Chouvenc M.Sc. Thesis.

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Chouvenc, T., Robert, A., Sémon, E. et al. Burial behaviour by dealates of the termite Pseudacanthotermes spiniger (Termitidae, Macrotermitinae) induced by chemical signals from termite corpses. Insect. Soc. 59, 119–125 (2012).

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