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Andrew Ellis Biology Lab 10/5/2011

Affects of Brand of Pen and Saran Wrap on Termite Pheromone Tracking


Abstract: Termites follow pheramones laid down by other termites in order to find sources of food. This experiment will test if the drying agents in pens can act as a pheromones for termites to follow. Our hypothesis is that the Papermate pen will be the most effective pheromone emulator and that the termites are following a scent, not a sight or texture. In order to test our hypothesis we created circles using three different pens (Papermate, Bic, and Staples) and recorded the number of times the termite would follow each around during three trials. In order to determine that the termites are following a scent we placed Saran wrap over the circles and repeated the exeriment. It was found the the termites followed the Papermate pen an average of 5 and 1/3 times around the circle, the Bic pen an average of 1/3 times around, and the Staples pen an average of 5/6 times around. It was also found that the termite could not follow any of the pens around at all with Saran wrap on top. This indicates that the Papermate pen has a drying agent that can act as a pheromone and that it is the scent of the drying agent, not the sight or feel of the ink, that the termite is following.

Introduction: Termites will use trail pheromones in order to create a trail for others to follow. Each termite will put a small amount of the pheromone from the sternal gland onto the path and others can detect the scent in order to follow it to food sources. This allows the termites to communicate with another. There are two trail pheramones that have been identified definitively-- the unsaturated aliphatic alcohol (3Z,6Z,8E)-3,6,8-dodecatrien-1-ol and the diterpene (E,E,E)neocembrene. (1) There is a special chemical in the drying agent of certain pens that can is very similar to termite pheramones. Termites will follow a line of ink on a piece of paper if it is drawn with a pen containing the chemical. The line acts as the trail that other termites have marked with the pheromone, prompting the termite to follow it as it would to find food. (2) We hope to learn which pens contain the drying agent that can act as a pheromone as well as if it really is the scent that the termites are following. We believe that the Papermate pen contains the pheromones and that covering the ink with Saran wrap will inhibit the termites from following the trails.

Materials and Methods: Materials used in this lab were a Bic pen, Staples pen, Papermate pen, Saran Wrap, graph paper, paintbrush, plastic container, and

termite. We decided to test whether the Papermate pen has drying agents that act as pheromones and whether it is really the smell that they follow. The first step was to acquire a termite. They can be picked up by rolling a paintbrush near there legs, which get caught so they can be picked up. We then placed the termite in the plastic container until we were ready for the first test. We drew 1 inch squares on the graph paper with three different pens (bic, staples, and papermate). We then picked the termite up from the container and placed him on the Bic pen square, noting the starting point. After the termite stopped following the square and deviated off of the drawn line, we recorded how many times he had went around. After a few tests we found that the termite was having trouble with the corners, never making it farther than once around. We then drew three circles one inch in diameter on the graph paper. We then placed the termite on the first circle again, letting the it attempt to follow each circle three times before moving on to the next. We picked the termite up if it made it around the circle six times because this showed that it had truly been following the scent without luck or guessing. Once this was completed we placed Saran wrap over the circles and repeated the entire process, making sure that the Saran wrap was held firmly in place.

Results:

It was found that the termite was able to follow the circle of the Bic pen 1/2 of the way around on the first trial (Fig. 1-1G), 1/4 on the second (Fig. 1-2G), and 1/2 on the third (Fig. 1-3G). It was able to follow the Staples pen 1/2 of the way around on the first trial (Fig. 11B), 1 and 1/2 on the second (Fig. 1-2B), and 1/2 on the third (Fig. 13B). It was able to follow the Papermate pen 5 times around on the first trial (Fig. 1-1R), 5 times on the second (Fig. 1-2R), and 6 times on the third (Fig. 1-3R).

Figure 1: compares the respective amount of times the termite could follow each circle around during the three trials. 1-3R (first-third trial, red bar), 1-3G (first-third trial, green bar), 1-3B (first-third trial, blue bar).

It was found that the termite was not able to follow any of the circles around at all when the Saran wrap was present on top of them (Table 1).

Table 1: This table shows the number of times the termite was able to follow the circles around for the three different pens.

Discussion: It was determined that the type of pen is directly corralated to the number of times the termite can follow it around the circle. Our hypothesis was proved correct as the termite was able to follow the Papermate pen circle significantly more (no less than 5 times compared to a maximum of 1 and 1/2) times around the circle. This indicates that the drying agents in the Papermate pen can act as pheromones for the termite while the other pens have drying agents that do not work effectively. Our second hypothesis was also proved correct in that the termite was not able to follow any of the circles for any length if Saran wrap was placed on top of them. This indicates that the termites are following the scents of the pens and not the sight or feel.

Further research could be done with the number of trials taken and the number of pens used. This, along with using multiple termites, would add credibility to the experiment. Another aspect would be to determine the chemical formulas for each of the pens' drying agents and compare to the chemical formula of termite pheromones. This would allow us to see on a molecular level what it is the termite is following. It would be interesting to see if there are similarities between the Papermate pen drying agents and the pheromones of the termite.

References: 1. Trochim W. 2011. Trail following of termites. [Internet]. Texas: University of Texas. [cited 2011 Oct 06] Available from: http://www.sbs.utexas.edu/jcabbott/courses/bio208web/lectures/scimet hod/trail_following_of_termites.htm.

2. Termite trails. [Internet]. 2011. Wikieducator: St. Michael's College. [cited 2011 Oct 06] Available from: http://wikieducator.org/Termite_trails.