Termites eavesdrop to avoid competitors

Theodore A. Evans, Ra Inta, Joseph C. S. Lai, Stefan Prueger, Nyuk Wei Foo, Eugene Wei'en Fu, Michael Lenz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

44 Citations (Scopus)


Competition exclusion, when a single species dominates resources due to superior competitiveness, is seldom observed in nature. Termites compete for resources with deadly consequences, yet more than one species can be found feeding in the same wooden resource. This is especially surprising when drywood species, with colonies of a few hundred, are found cohabiting with subterranean species, with colonies of millions. Termites communicate vibro-acoustically and, as these signals can travel over long distances, they are vulnerable to eavesdropping. We investigated whether drywood termites could eavesdrop on vibration cues from subterranean species. We show, using choice experiments and recordings, that the drywood termite Cryptotermes secundus can distinguish its own species from the dominant competitor in the environment, the subterranean termite Coptotermes acinaciformis. The drywood termite was attracted to its own vibration cues, but was repelled by those of the subterranean species. This response increased with decreasing wood size, corresponding with both increased risk and strength of the cue. The drywood termites appear to avoid confrontation by eavesdropping on the subterranean termites; these results provide further evidence that vibro-acoustic cues are important for termite sensory perception and communication.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4035-4041
Number of pages7
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society of London: series B
Issue number1675
Publication statusPublished - 22 Nov 2009
Externally publishedYes

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