Differential undertaking response of a lower termite to congeneric and conspecific corpses

Qian Sun, Kenneth F. Haynes, Xuguo Zhou

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28 Scopus citations


Undertaking behaviour is an essential activity in social insects. Corpses are often recognized by a postmortem change in a chemical signature.Reticulitermes flavipesresponded 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.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1650
JournalScientific Reports
StatePublished - Apr 18 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors are grateful to anonymous reviewers and editor for their constructive criticisms. Special thanks go to Drs. Susan Jones (Department of Entomology, The Ohio State University) for providing a Reticulitermes flavipes colony, John Obrycki (Department of Entomology, University of Kentucky) for his comments on an earlier draft, and Ric Bessin (Department of Entomology, University of Kentucky) for his assistance with statistical analysis. This research was supported by a start-up fund from the University of Kentucky, the NSF-EPSCoR Research Scholars Program, Kentucky Initiative in Ecological Genomics (Award Agreement No. NSF/EPSCoR RII Grant EPS-0814194), and a grant from the Kentucky Commercialization Fund Program, Kentucky Science and Technology Corporation (Award Agreement No. KSTC-144-401-09-034). The granting agencies have no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. The information reported in this paper (No. 13-08-025) is part of a project of the Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station and is published with the approval of the Director.

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