Insectes Sociaux

, Volume 65, Issue 2, pp 281–288 | Cite as

Testing for aggression and nestmate recognition in the Eastern subterranean termite (Reticulitermes flavipes)

  • V. Simkovic
  • G. J. Thompson
  • J. N. McNeil
Research Article


Social insect colonies typically have well-defined social and physical boundaries but in some cases, colonies may take-on a more diffuse form with no obvious nestmate recognition or inter-colony aggression. Why colonies adopt closed versus open societies is not well understood, but it is presumably related to the genetic or environmental identity of individuals. In this study, we use Canadian populations of the Eastern subterranean termite (Reticulitermes flavipes) to test for evidence of aggression and nestmate recognition. Specifically, we predict that any inter-colony aggression will increase as a function of geographic distance. In short-term, (5-min) Petri-dish trials (varying caste, group size and colony source) we observed no evidence of aggression. However, in 2- and 7-day shared-resource assays, we observed very little inter-colony mixing and a high incidence of mortality in non-nestmate pairings. Our long-term observations imply that subterranean termites sort and potentially compete on the basis of nest origin, and that this recognition is mediated in part by ecological context. This behavior would not be evident from Petri dish-style assays, which lack this context and may explain why prior studies of kin or nestmate recognition in R. flavipes have yielded mixed results.


Reticulitermes flavipes Termite Aggression Nestmate recognition Supercolony 



We thank Aetna Pest Control (Toronto), the Nature Conservancy of Canada and Point Pelee National Park for permission and assistance in obtaining field colonies. This work was funded by NSERC Discovery Grants to GJT and JNM.

Supplementary material

40_2018_608_MOESM1_ESM.docx (146 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 145 KB)


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Copyright information

© International Union for the Study of Social Insects (IUSSI) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of Western OntarioLondonCanada

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