Do Termites Really Follow Ink Trails?
Since the vast majority of termites living within a particular colony are blind, excepting kings and queens, these blind termites require other methods of recognition. Recognizing fellow colony members as opposed to enemies is especially important for termites since they are social animals and can only survive by working with their own kind. Termites are able to sense the presence of their own kind by sensing the pheromones that other termites release. In fact, termites use their sense of smell for just about everything, including following the tracks that lead to their colonies. It makes sense for termites to be attracted to these pheromones. However, what does not make so much sense is the tendency for termites to follow ink trails, which many humans have noticed.
Naturally, scientists are fascinated by a termite’s attraction to ink, so they aimed to figure out why termites love ink so much. Researchers managed to isolate a volatile chemical that is used as an ingredient in pen ink. This chemical is known as 2-phenoxyethanol. According to researchers, this is the chemical that most likely attracts termites to pen ink.
It has been noted that termites do not seem attracted to felt-tip pens or any other type of pen besides ballpoint pens. And termites especially prefer two particularly popular brands of pen. Also, the chemical 2-phenoxyethanol is only present in blue ink. Researchers believe that this may be due to evolutionary developments that prevent them from following red or black trails. However, researchers are still not yet sure as to the reasons for a termite’s preference for blue trails as opposed to other colors.
The preference that termites show for pheromones released by blue ink can be demonstrated with a piece of paper, a blue ballpoint pen, and, of course, a termite. This makes for an educational classroom activity, or something to do if you are bored and happen to have a termite/s on hand.
Have you ever personally noticed a termite following an ink trail? If you have, was the ink blue in color?