Are Termites Blind? 2 Senses Termites Use to Move Underground

Termites are more sophisticated than most people think.

They lack some body parts that humans have to communicate and go through their daily lives, but they make up for it for sensing the tiniest chemical signals and vibrations.

So can termites see?

Well right now, there could be several thousands of these tiny insects communicating and coordinating to eat up your house. And most of them don’t need eyes for that.

Can Termites See? 2 Senses Termites Use to Move Underground

Termites use more than one senses to move underground or into the dark parts of the wood. CC Image courtesy of Filipe Fortes on Flickr

Worker and soldier termites are blind

According About Education, not all termites can see. In fact, majority of the members of a colony are blind. Workers and soldiers, the ones that make up more than 90% of a colony, don’t even have eyes.

Only fertile termites see. The kings, queens and swarmers are the only members of the colony that have eyes. We suppose this is because the kings and queens used to be swarmers themselves. And swarmers obviously need eyes when they fly off the nest to create more colonies.

Since most termites live deep underground or deep into the center of a wooden structure, they don’t need eyesight to “see”. Instead, these termites see through other senses. They communicate through releasing pheromones and through feeling vibrations.

Termites see through pheromones

Technically, it’s more of “smelling” than “seeing”. But the idea remains the same. Termites communicate and trace each other’s steps through the pheromones (chemical substance) they leave behind.

Termites’ form of “smelling” and their pheromones are a big part of their lives. They use them to navigate and communicate. But this kind of smelling is not like how we humans do it. Sentricon tells us that there isn’t really a “smell” but traces of chemicals termites pick up and recognize through their antennae.

According to Eflex, by using special glands on their chests, termites excrete pheromones that trigger a variety of social responses from other members of the colony.

For example, pheromones trails are left by foraging termites so that other termites can trace their steps. They also coordinate with each other using this substance to carry out complicated tasks.

Aside from pheromones, termites also recognize odors from the colony and hydrocarbons on the cuticles of other termites. And since wood gives off carbon dioxide when it decays, termites can definitely ‘smell’ that.

Termites see through vibrations

Can Termites See? 2 Senses Termites Use to Move Underground Termite Soldier

A termite soldier has a bigger and darker colored head with large mandibles. CC Image courtesy of the USDA on Flickr

No, they don’t have ears. But like how they smell things, termites use a primitive sense of vibration that’s useful for communicating underground.

Eflex further states that when a colony is in danger, termite soldiers pound their heads against tube or gallery walls to warn the others. This is an alarm that can either trigger a massive evacuation towards a safer part of the nest. They can also call for reinforcements to fight the invaders.

This insect proves that you don’t really need eyes to bring a house down. Termites see through vibrations and pheromones. It’s rudimentary but effective for them because they’ve been doing it for millions of years.

Maybe next time you lay baits for them, consider their sense of smell above anything else. Make the baits as irresistible as possible.