Termites Need Their Privacy Too
Imagine a world with no dressing rooms in department stores, or bathroom stalls with no doors, or showers with built in windows. It is difficult to imagine a world without privacy. Perhaps long ago, before the advent of civilization, humans walked around naked with no shame. But modern humans will go to great lengths in order to avoid exposing their naked bodies to strangers. Surprisingly, termites also seem to prefer privacy in some situations. For example, a termite that is preparing to molt will urgently return to the privacy of its home nest in order to shed its outer exoskeleton. Researchers have recently noticed that the Coptotermes formosanus, or the Formosan subterranean termite, will always avoid molting out in the open. A Formosan will rarely, if ever, shed its exoskeleton while foraging. Similar to humans, Formosans seem to prefer the privacy and safety of their nests before stripping themselves of their exoskeletons.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term “molting,” the term refers to the shedding of skin or outer body structures. Molting is a natural part of physical growth for many animals. The process of molting is known as “ecdysis”. Surprisingly, researchers have only recently observed the Formosan termites habit of returning to its colony in order to undergo ecdysis. Studying subterranean termites, like Formosans, is difficult because they spend much of their time traveling below the surface of the ground. However, given this recent observation, researchers now understand why termite poisons often result in killing entire termite colonies as opposed to just one or a few termites.
Researchers have known that certain insecticides work to kill termites only when termites are undergoing ecdysis. If a termite that is exposed to an insecticide returns to its nest in order to molt, then the all termites within a colony will become exposed to the insecticide, effectively killing most colony members.
Researchers are still not sure as to why Formosan subterranean termites always return to their nests to molt. Some experts believe that the discarded exoskeleton is consumed by the queen, as the exoskeleton is rich in nitrogen. Also, A Formosan termite probably prefers to undergo ecdysis within the safety of its nest since they become more vulnerable to predators during this process.
Do you think that all termite species return to their nests before ecdysis begins so that they can remain safe from outside predators?