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Substrate vibration communication is displayed by a variety of insects that rely on silk for shelter. Such signaling is often associated with territoriality and social interactions. The goal in this study was to explore the use of substrate vibration by subsocial insects of the little-studied order Embioptera (also known as Embiidina). Antipaluria urichi (Saussure) (Embioptera: Clothodidae) from Trinidad and Tobago, a large embiopteran, exhibits maternal care and facultatively colonial behavior. Previous observations suggested that they were aggressive while guarding eggs but gregarious when not. Egg-guarders in particular have been observed shaking and lunging their bodies, but to date these putative signals have not been recorded nor were their contexts known. Staged interactions were conducted in the laboratory using residents that had established silk domiciles enveloping piezo-electric film used to detect vibrations. Predictions from two competing hypotheses, the maternal territoriality hypothesis and the group cohesion hypothesis, were erected to explain the occurrence of signaling. Experiments pitted pre-reproductive and egg-guarding residents against female and male intruders, representing social partners that ranged from potentially threatening to innocuous or even helpful. Behavioral acts were identified and scored along with associated substrate vibrations, which were measured for associated body movements, duration, and frequency spectra. Signals, sorted by the distinct actions used to generate them, were lunge, shake, push up, and snapback. Egg-guarding females produced most signals in response to female intruders, a result that supported the maternal territoriality hypothesis. Female intruders generally responded to such signaling by moving away from egg-guarding residents. In contrast, pre-reproductive residents did not signal much, and intruders settled beside them. Theme software was used to analyze the behavioral event recordings to seek patterns over time and their association with signals. Long patterns of behavioral acts were associated with shakes, lunges, and push-ups, indicating that interactions were occurring between the residents and intruders as would be expected when communication occurs. The value of Theme software, as well as the relationship between signaling by A. urichi and the risks and benefits of coloniality, are discussed.
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