The escaping behavior of termites has been documented under laboratory conditions; however, no study has been conducted in a field setting due to the difficulty of observing natural behaviors inside wood or structures (e.g., nests, tunnels, etc.). The black-winged termite, Odontotermes formosanus (Shiraki), is a subterranean macrotermitine species which builds extensive mud tubes on tree trunks. In the present study, 41 videos (totaling ∼2,700 min) were taken on 22 colonies/subcolonies of O. formosanus after their mud tubes were partially damaged by hand. In general, termites consistently demonstrated three phases of escape, including initiation (wandering near the mud-tube breach), individual escaping (single termites moving downward), and massive, unidirectional escaping flows (groups of termites moving downward). Downward moving and repairing were the dominant behavioral activities of individuals and were significantly more frequent than upward moving, turning/backward moving, or wandering. Interestingly, termites in escaping flows moved significantly faster than escaping individuals. Repairing behavior was observed shortly after the disturbance, and new mud tubes were preferentially constructed from the bottom up. When predators (i.e., ants) were present, however, termites stopped moving and quickly sealed the mud-tube openings by capping the broken ends. Our study provides an interesting example that documents an animal (besides humans) simultaneously carrying out pathway repairs and emergency evacuation without congestion.
Xiong, H., Chen, X., Wen, Y., Layne, M., Sun, Z., Ma, T., … Wang, C. (2018). Escaping and repairing behaviors of the termite Odontotermes formosanus (Blattodea: Termitidae) in response to disturbance . PeerJ, 6, e4513. https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.4513