What are termite pheromones?

nuptial flight
Photo by dotun55
Termite pheromones are used by termites to communicate with one another. But it is not just termites that use pheromones. There are a range of different insects that also use pheromones, and in fact humans do so as well (although the effects are much less noticeable). Pheromones are commonly used for co-ordination in the insect family especially amongst the Hymenoptera family which includes wasps, bees, ants and termites. This is because these creatures do not mate traditionally as pairs like many other animals but instead follow Queen/colony hierarchies. Because there are so many of these creatures even within one colony, pheromones tend to be an effective method of communicating and coordinating when there are large groups of insects.

How do termite pheromones work?

Termite pheromones work in a similar fashion as they would if they were bees or ants. One termite worker will head off foraging and scout out the surrounding area. This termite will travel quite far distances relative to its size. Whilst it is travelling it will be leaving behind it a pheromones trail so that other termites can follow in its footsteps. However, if the termite comes across a food source, let’s say some particularly nice piece of wood for it to feast upon, then it will start releasing different termite chemicals or pheromones, letting the other termites know that food has been discovered. Other termites will then begin swarming to the area so that they can quickly take advantage of the food source. Other types of termite pheromones are used to tell each other when to reproduce and what type of caste the baby termite should become.

How can termite pheromones be used in pest control?

You can specifically buy termite pens which can be used to guide termites away from your house. These have been designed to contain the ‘follow’ pheromone so that if a termite encounters this chemical, it will begin following it. To use it you simply draw a line on the ground using the pen and it will leave behind invisible ink that the termites can sense but we cannot see. In fact, an artist used a similar technique in an art gallery where it released an ant colony and on the ground drew a large circle for the ants to follow – and they did so dutifully, continuously going around without any attempts to go elsewhere during the whole exhibit! Also, baiting stations sometimes contain termite pheromones to attract any nearby colony. However, after the termites have entered the trap they will be filled with poison and then once they return to their colony they will spread that poison to the other termites.