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Sci Rep. 2013;3:1650. doi: 10.1038/srep01650.

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

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Department of Entomology, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY 40546-0091, USA.


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

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