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Differential Undertaking Response of a Lower Termite to Congeneric and Conspecific Corpses

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Differential Undertaking Response of a Lower Termite to Congeneric and Conspecific Corpses

Qian Sun et al. Sci Rep.

Abstract

Undertaking behaviour is an essential activity in social insects. Corpses are often recognized by a postmortem change in a chemical signature. Reticulitermes flavipes responded to corpses within minutes of death. This undertaking behaviour did not change with longer postmortem time (24 h); however, R. flavipes exhibited distinctively different behaviours toward dead termites from various origins. Corpses of the congeneric species, Reticulitermes virginicus, were buried onsite by workers with a large group of soldiers guarding the burial site due to the risk of interspecific competition; while dead conspecifics, regardless of colony origin, were pulled back into the holding chamber for nutrient recycling and hygienic purposes. The burial task associated with congeneric corpses was coupled with colony defence and involved ten times more termites than retrieval of conspecific corpses. Our findings suggest elicitation of undertaking behaviour depends on the origin of corpses which is associated with different types of risk.

Figures

Figure 1
Figure 1. Schematic drawing of experimental set-up.
Colonies were maintained in holding chamber. A 9.0 cm-diameter testing arena was connected to the holding chamber with a 3.0 cm plastic tubing. The testing arena was covered with a lid to avoid disturbance by air movement. Corpses were placed in the vicinity of nest entrance, and the activities of termites in the testing arena were videotaped.
Figure 2
Figure 2. Corpse removal time by Reticulitermes flavipes.
(a) Removal time of dead nestmates with different postmortem time in two colonies, KY-4 and KY-15 (mean ± standard error). Unpaired t-test (P > 0.05) detected no significant difference among treatments with different postmortem time in both colonies, (b) Removal time of dead nestmates or inter-colony corpses in two colonies (mean ± standard error). NS represents no significant difference between removal times based on unpaired t-test, P > 0.05.
Figure 3
Figure 3. Undertaking responses of Reticulitermes flavipes to conspecific corpses.
(a)–(d) Counts of workers and soldiers which were recruited to inter-colony corpses. (a) and (b) represent two replications in colony KY-173, while (c) and (d) represent two replications in KY-174. (e)-(h) Counts of workers and soldiers which were recruited to intra-colony corpses. (e) and (f) represent two replications in colony KY-173, while (g) and (h) represent two replications in KY-174. (i) A soldier touching the corpse with antennae. (j) A worker attempting to grasp a corpse with its mandibles after antennation. (k) Three workers, each of them carrying a corpse, respectively. (l) Corpses being dragged into the holding chamber through the entrance by workers. (i)-(l) are the results of inter-colony treatments, but behaviours were the same with intra-colony treatments.
Figure 4
Figure 4. Undertaking responses of Reticulitermes flavipes to R. virginicus corpses.
(a)–(d) Counts of workers and soldiers which were recruited to congeneric corpses. (a) and (b) represent two replications in colony KY-173, while (c) and (d) represent two replications in KY-174. (e) A soldier touching the corpse with antennae and attacking it with open mandibles. (f) Soldiers attacking the corpses. (g) More soldiers being recruited. (h) Corpses being buried by workers while a group of soldiers guarding the burial site. (i) Ten R. virginicus corpses were completely buried.
Figure 5
Figure 5. Number of termites involved in treatments with corpses of different origin.
Mean number of termites per observation in treatments with congeneric (R. virginicus), inter-colony, and intra-colony corpses. For each treatment, two colonies were used (KY-173 and KY-174) with 2 replications. Error bars represent standard error of 4 replications. Means between groups denoted with same letters were not significantly different (P > 0.05, Tukey HSD Comparison Test).

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