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Termite Headbanging

December 27, 2006

Termites really know how to raise a ruckus when faced with danger.


The woodpecker of the insect world. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Headbanging’s not just for woodpeckers or heavy metal rock fans. Termites do it, too, slamming their heads against the walls in order to sound the alarm when their galleries are breached.

[termite headbanging sound]

The ensuing racket, which sounds like this, calls soldiers to fight and workers to seal the opening. Biologist Tom Fink of the National Center for Physical Acoustics studied the motion with high-speed video.

TOM FINK (National Center for Physical Acoustics):
It’s hard to believe they can do that without knocking themselves out. The velocities are, like, say 100 to 240 meters per second. So they’re really moving really fast and really hard and essentially taking up their full head weight and slamming it as hard into the substrate as they can.

Fink and his colleagues found that listening for headbanging is the best way to detect termites in trees—which could help save trees and also homes. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.