I sat in a bar once with another
insect geek entomologist drinking beer and we debated over termite pheromones for
hours. Yes, anything is possible. The point is pheromones are fascinating! The
problem lies in convincing normal people they are too, but here goes nothing…
First, what is a pheromone? A pheromone is a secreted or excreted chemical that triggers a response in members of the same species. It’s a way of communicating information, sometimes over vast distances to other members. Most people are familiar with sex pheromones. A classic example is the sex pheromone emitted by certain female moths so potient it can attract a male from miles away. But what’s interesting is that there are all kinds of different types of pheromones. Here are just a few examples:
Alarm. This is the "We're under attack, CHARGE!" pheromone. Alarm pheromone is released by bees in the form of isoamyl acetate when it stings. This marks the victim as a potential threat and will draw other bees to attack. You don’t want to walk around a beehive with a ripe bananna in your hands. Why? Because ripe banannas give off an odor similar to alarm pheromone and it could trigger an aggressive response from the hive.
Trail. This is the "Follow the yellow brick road," pheromone. Ants use this to find their way to and from a food source and back to the nest. Ever try rubbing your finger across the imaginary line an ant follows? They will stop at the spot you rubbed your finger because the trail pheromone is gone. I love confusing ants.
Aggregation. This is the “Lets all hang out,” pheromone.
Despersal. This is the “Everyone get the H*** out!” pheromone.
Epideictic. This is the “Occupied, go away,” pheromone.
Territorial. This is the “GET OFF MY MOUNTAIN!" pheromone.
Pheromones are also a useful tool for managing insect pests. Pest Management Professionals will use synthesized sex pheromone as bait to attract males into traps, thereby takeing them out of the local breeding population. Another technique is to super saturate a given area with sex pheromone. This causes “male confusion” *snickers childishly*. When high levels of pheromones are put into the atmosphere, males are no longer able to pinpoint the female. If he can’t find his mate, they can’t reproduce.
So are you convinced yet? Listen to Tom, he knew what was in the air. (;