Scale-free movement patterns in termites emerge from social interactions and preferential attachments

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2021 May 18;118(20):e2004369118. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2004369118.


As the number or density of interacting individuals in a social group increases, a transition can develop from uncorrelated and disordered behavior of the individuals to a collective coherent pattern. We expand this observation by exploring the fine details of termite movement patterns to demonstrate that the value of the scaling exponent μ of a power law describing the Lévy walk of an individual is modified collectively as the density of animals in the group changes. This effect is absent when termites interact with inert obstacles. We also show that the network of encounters and interactions among specific individuals is selective, resembling a preferential attachment mechanism that is important for social networking. Our data strongly suggest that preferential attachments, a phenomenon not reported previously, and favorite interactions with a limited number of acquaintances are responsible for the generation of Lévy movement patterns in these social insects.

Keywords: Lévy walks; collective behavior; preferential attachments; social insects; termites.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't