ANT POISON SUGGESTS NEW AVENUES FOR TERMITE CONTROL RESEARCH

A great many human inventions are actually inspired by nature’s designs, and it looks like yet another may be in the works, this time specifically for the termite control and termite extermination industry. Scientists from the University of Toulouse, headed by Angelique Vetillard, have been studying an African ant species that is proving to have one of the deadliest poisons in the insect world, especially where termites are concerned. What they have discovered about the way the ant’s poison works can be helpful to those in the termite control industry in the future.

The interest shall most likely come from those involved in developing pesticides for termite control. The scientists studying the ant species, which is named Crematogaster striatula, have found that the ant often preys on termites much larger than it by using venom that is emitted from a gland called the Dufour gland. This in itself is quite a singular piece of information already, as the Dufour gland is not typically the source of such substances in ants: there is actually a distinct poison gland that ants use for that. In this particular species, however, the Dufour—which is more often used to generate the chemicals that ants use to mark their trails—is the source of the poison.

What makes the poison so special would be its potency as well as its method of deployment. Most ants with stings need to actually come in contact with the prey for their venom to work: their sting is a contact-based one that relies on a prick or bite to be discharged effectively into the prey’s body. With Crematogaster striatula, you get something quite unusual—so unusual, in fact, that there is only one other known ant that employs a similar method of discharging its poison. C. striatula can release its poison as an aerosol.

The ant basically lifts its stinger, releases the poison as a fine spray, and thus manages to kill its prey in a more effective manner. Effective at a maximum distance of 10 millimetres away, the spray managed to kill termites in a test within 10 minutes of deployment. This is easily one of the most efficient ways of attacking prey, especially prey like termite soldiers, who naturally try to hold their ground when their nest is attacked. The ants merely need to do a few raids to get a good supply of termites back to their own nest for food.

Termite control experts are already talking about how this could be applied to the termite control mixtures they use. More research has to be performed by the scientists studying the ant species in question, of course, but once the proper chemicals have been identified, experts hope that they can be used to generate a new and very potent termiticide.