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Mimicking smell key to survival

Antonia Faleiros / Wikimedia CommonsTermite mound: different species in the same nestAntonia Faleiros / Wikimedia Commons

A termite mound can be home to termites of more than one species, but those from different species often have to find tricks to survive. Biologists from the Federal University of Sergipe (UFS) and the Federal Rural University of Pernambuco (UFRPE) found that having a similar odor is essential for intruders seeking to avoid conflict. The researchers collected 21 nests of Constrictotermes sp. cohabiting with another species, Inquilinitermes microcerus, from two municipalities in the state of Sergipe. When put together, the hosts and inquilines of nearby and distant nests behaved differently. Constrictotermes sp. fought only with termites of the same species from different nests, but not with inquilines of other species, even if they were not from the same nest. I. microcerus did not show aggression in any situation. A subsequent examination of the insects’ intestinal contents led to the conclusion that the inquilines feed on the host’s feces, giving them a similar odor to the original inhabitants of the colony. The inquilines also avoid death by remaining in unfrequented areas of the nest (Research Square, preprint, June 26).