tree-termite

One common African termite species, the Macrotermes natalensis, builds colony mounds that stand a little over three feet or more tall. These termites also build  underground tunnels stretching over an area as large as a large home would. So when a predator comes knocking, they need to have an alarm system to warn the rest of the colony.

Warning System

To warn the colony of an impending invasion by a predator, soldier termites smack their heads against the floors of the colony, creating a vibration that moves down the tunnels at about 430 feet per second. As the vibration moves down the tunnel, other termites pick up the signal and bang their heads, too.  This signals worker termites to run deeper into the nest for protection, and signals the soldiers to head towards the source, to do battle.

Sensing System

Termites are able to sense the warning vibrations with all six of their legs. They are also able to tell which way to run just by the vibrations they feel. They sense it first in the leg nearest to the source of the vibration, and last in the leg farthest from the source. They are able to detect the split-second time delay between those two moments, and thus are able to deduce which direction they need to head in.

Re-writing Science Books

Biologist Peggy S.M. Hill at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma has studied insect vibrations for a long time. She says decades ago science textbooks wrote solid materials such as the ground could not transmit messages clearly via vibrations. But studies, like this one, now show that is clearly not true. And scientists now estimate 150,000 different species of insects communicate via vibrations sent through their nests or other solid surfaces. “We are just beginning to understand how they do it,” said Felix Hager, a biologist at  Ruhr University Bochum in Germany.

 

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