ScienceShot: Termite Architects Have Their Own Plans
Termites are notorious for ravaging wooden buildings. But they are actually sophisticated architects in their own right. As in other social insects, termite constructions emerge from the collective behavior of thousands of individuals. Each species appears to have its own approach, which is probably influenced by the environment. Two scientists in Japan wondered how much variety there might be among termite colonies of the same species if given identical surroundings. To find out, they brought eight colonies of the subterranean termite Reticulitermes speratus from the forest into the lab. Each army got a block of compressed sawdust to build with. The scientists found dramatic differences in architecture between colonies (above, the results from two), the first time this has been shown. And the blueprints are an inherent part of the colony; when the colonies were split into groups, each group from the same colony erected strikingly similar “shelter tubes,” the researchers report this month in Insectes Sociaux. Further research, they say, could help explain how these self-organizing behaviors evolve. The source of the variation between colonies is not yet clear; genetics, diet, or other factors could play a role.