Homosexual tandem running as selfish herd in Reticulitermes speratus: novel antipredatory behavior in termites

J Theor Biol. 2002 Jan 7;214(1):63-70. doi: 10.1006/jtbi.2001.2447.


We investigated the predator avoidance mechanism of post-swarming alates of the lower subterranean termite, Reticulitermes speratus Kolbe. In some lower termites, homosexual tandem running is observed in addition to ordinary heterosexual tandem running. An experiment designed to compare the risk of predation by a termite-hunting ant, Brachyponera chinensis Emery, showed that homosexual tandem running reduced the predation risk until termites encounter the opposite sex. Since an individual ant cannot capture two dealates at once, one of the two dealates forming a tandem can escape while the ant captures its partner. Therefore, the "post-encounter risk" of individuals running in tandem was lower than that of single individuals. The "encounter risk" with predatory ants was also examined using a mathematical model considering the increased detectability of the predator due to enhanced size of the prey unit. It was suggested that tandem running reduces the predation risk of both participants, even when the enhanced encounter risk was taken into account. In males, competition for the back position was often observed, and consequently, the male at the back was always larger than the male in front. When a male-male tandem encountered a female, the back male won the female more often than the front male. This result suggested that male-male tandem running should result in selection pressure in favor of vigorous males. In conclusion, tandem running decreases the individual predation risk through the dilution effect, and it also plays a role as a mechanism of indirect sexual selection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ants
  • Female
  • Group Processes
  • Homosexuality*
  • Isoptera / physiology*
  • Male
  • Models, Biological
  • Predatory Behavior*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Running
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal*