Antennal cropping during colony foundation in termites

Christine A. Nalepa, Theodore A. Evans, Michael Lenz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


The literature on pairing and mating behavior in termites indicates that a number of distal antennal segments in dealates of both sexes are often removed during colony foundation, with terms such as amputation, mutilation and cannibalism typically employed to report the phenomenon. Here we propose the use of the phrase 'antennal cropping' to describe the behavior, and assess naturally occurring levels of its occurrence by comparing the number of antennal segments in museum specimens of alates and dealates in 16 species of Australian termites (four families), supplemented by analyzing published data on Coptotermes gestroi. Dealates had significantly fewer antennal segments than alates in 14 of the 16 termite species, with both exceptions belonging to the family Termitidae. Levels of antennal cropping were not significantly different between the sexes but did vary by family. Dealates in the Kalotermitidae removed the most segments (41.3%) and those in the Termitidae removed the fewest (8.9%). We discuss the biological significance of this phylogenetically widespread termite behavior, and suggest that controlled antennal cropping is not only a normal part of their behavioral repertoire but also a key influence that changes the conduct and physiology of the royal pair during the initial stages of colony foundation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)185-196
Number of pages12
Issue number148
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes


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