Premating Behavior of Dealates of the Formosan Subterranean Termite and Evidence for the Presence of a Contact Sex Pheromone4

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Swarming by alates of the Formosan subterranean termite, Coptotermes formosanus Shiraki, occurs around dusk during April–June in Louisiana and adjoining states. Dispersal is the primary purpose for swarming. We studied the premating behavior, following swarming. Loss of wings, especially in females, was essential for successful formation of tandem pairs between the two sexes. No calling was observed and apparently a long-range volatile sex pheromone, reported in some other species of termites, may not be involved in mate attraction in C. formosanus. Males moving randomly use their antennae to detect a female, and, together with maxillary and labial palps, contact is maintained with her while in tandem. Previously mated males paired with virgin females showed tandem behavior. The incidence was very low when both males and females were previously mated and then paired. Males with complete ablation of antennae did not form tandem pairs. Ablation of 10 terminal antennal segments or the labial palps caused a significant increase in the time to initiate tandem behavior. Electrophysiological recordings from gustatory sensilla on both antennae and maxillary palps revealed increased neural activity in response to female abdominal tip extracts compared to activity elicited by a solvent control. Analysis of extracts of male and female abdominal tips using high-performance liquid chromatography showed a peak unique to the female extract. We discuss the presence of a nonvolatile chemical in female C. formosanus and its involvement in the specific premating behavior.

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