The behavioral responses to instant freezing or chilling temperatures and survivorship of the Formosan subterranean termite, Coptotermes formosanus Shiraki, and the Eastern subterranean termite, Reticulitermes flavipes (Kollar), were studied using a novel experimental design that closely simulated subterranean termites’ natural in-ground environment. Both termite species responded to changes in temperature by exhibiting a downward mass movement from the cold to warmer area of constant temperature. However, the degrees of response were specific to the species and temperature regimen. Approximately 88 and 96% of R. flavipes escaped from instant 0°C and chilling regimens (from 24 to 0°C at a rate of 1°C/h or 1°C/12 h), respectively, compared with ≈77 and 91% of C. formosanus. No significant difference was detected between the two cooling regimens in either termite species. Controls resulted in a relatively even distribution within test tubes in both termite species. The small portion of the termites that did not escape endured a cold coma at a 24-h 0°C and had low mortality of 2.2 and <1% in R. flavipes and <5.2 and <3% in C. formosanus at instant and chilling regimens, respectively. This result may have implications for understanding group intelligence and decision making evolved by subterranean termites to survive temporary freezing cold.
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