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HAVE YOU EVER WONDERED… HOW DO INSECTS COMMUNICATE WITH ONE ANOTHER?

By: Efraim Harari



Have you ever seen a swarm of ants around a piece of food? How did they know it was there? How did the ant who found it tell all its friends?

The most important communication insects have is with members of the same species. With their members, they use different signals to give warnings about danger and to tell about food sources. They also use signals to ward off predators or attract prey. These signal communications are based on the insects’ senses of touch, smell, sound, and sight. Here are some of the specific ways insects “talk” to each other:

Touch

Some insects can't see very well, and some live in dark places, so they need a method of communication that doesn't depend on sight. They have to do something that another bug can feel. When an ant is “following a leader,” it uses its antennae to tap the leader's legs so the lead ant knows that its follower is keeping up with it.

Other bugs send vibrations through the plant they are on to warn each other of approaching danger.

Smell

Insects have an incredible sense of smell. They can detect just a few molecules of a certain scent in the air. To communicate by smell (and sometimes taste) within a species, insects release chemicals called pheromones. These special chemicals do many things, including marking trails. An ant who finds a food source leaves a pheromone trail as it heads back to its colony. As other ants come across the trail, they follow it to the food source and leave another layer of pheromone on their way back. This makes the trail stronger and attracts even more ants.

Sometimes pheromones are released into the air, and insects smell them with their antennae. Other times pheromones are released onto something, like a leaf or another insect, in which case the insect can taste the chemical with its feet.

I See You!

If you've ever had the chance to look at a bug's eye up close, you've probably noticed that it doesn't look much like a human eye! Insects have compound eyes, made up of thousands of tiny lenses instead of just one like we have. These lenses don't allow insects to see very clearly, but they do make them highly sensitive to light and movement. When you sneak up behind a fly with a fly swatter, chances are it'll see your movement and get out of the way before you can smash it!

Sound

From the buzzing of a bee to the whine of a mosquito to a cricket's chirp, insects can make lots of sounds. Many times, these sounds are higher than what human ears can hear. The way insects hear them is with their tympanal organs (hearing organs), which are located on their abdomen or legs. Here are a few of the ways that insects make their own noises (most of these sounds humans canhear):

Some insects make a very loud sound by vibrating their tymbal (membrane used to produce sound). A hollow part of the insect’s body acts as a resonance chamber and amplifies the noise, like a drum.

Some insects use their spiracles to make sounds. The Madagascar hissing cockroach, for example, pushes air out of its spiracles very fast to make a hissing sound.

Bees and mosquitoes create a buzzing noise when they fly, because their wings vibrate fast enough to produce a sound.

Musically Inclined

Insects such as crickets and grasshoppers make sound by rubbing one part of their body against another part (like a leg against a wing). This is called stridulation. It’s kind of like playing a violin.