CSIRO entomologist Theo Evans says laboratory experiments have found that termites use their ability to detect vibrations to determine which food source is most suitable. The termites can also detect how the vibrations are made. This ability could be likened to a form of sonar.
Dr Evans says different termite species are known to prefer eating particular sizes of wood; certain drywood termites prefer small blocks, presumably to avoid competition. With Professor Joseph Lai and his students from the University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy, Dr Evans investigated how the blind insects measured pieces of wood.
They recorded the vibrations of worker drywood termites as they fed on large and small wood blocks. Dr Evans then broadcast the recorded vibrations made by termites from the large blocks into small blocks and found that the termites switched their preference to the large blocks. Prof Lai created an artificial signal similar to that made by the termites chewing the large block, which Dr Evans broadcast into small blocks and the scientists found that the termites had no preference for either large or small blocks. Broadcasting static into small blocks did not affect termite choice, showing that the termites were not interested in random noise.
These results show two responses by the termites: one to block size and a second to signal source. The artificial signal mimicked the characteristic frequency of the wooden block, so the termites were tricked into believing that a small block with the artificial signal was the same size as a large block; thus no preferenc
Contact: Theo Evans