November 25, 2008

Termite’s mandible menacing to predators

A bop on the head by a Panamanian termite using its mandible is enough to kill a would-be invader, said U.S. researchers studying the insect's brain evolution.

Moving faster than the human eye can see, the termite soldier's jaws can strike so fast that it takes a high-speed camera filming at 40,000 frames per second to capture the blow, researchers from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama and the University of Florida said in a news release.

Ultimately, we're interested in the evolution of termite soldiers' brains and how they employ different types of defensive weaponry, said Marc Seid, a postgraduate fellow at the institute. Many insects move much faster than a human eye can see so we knew that we needed high-speed cameras to capture their behavior, but we weren't expecting anything this fast. If you don't know about the behavior, you can't hope to understand the brain.

The Panamanian termite faces down its foe in a narrow tunnel with little maneuvering room or time to waste, so any strike must be efficient, researchers said. The termite stores the force to back its blow by pressing its jaws together until the strike is triggered, Seid said.