Wednesday 18 April 2012

P for PHEROMONES: resistance is futile

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.

Funural.This is the “I’m dead, take me outside,” pheromone, (place funural pheromone on a live ant and watch all the others keep trying to dump her out of the colony! <3 bug humor...)

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. (;


  1. Fantastic theme.

    Passing through on the A-Z challenge trail, but will be back as a new follower once the madness dies down a bit.


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  3. 'I'm dead take me outside'lol talk about loyalty to the cause

  4. Amanda: Thanks for the follow, I'm happy you like the theme. Am going to check out your blog next! (:

    D.S.taylor: I know! Right down to the bitter end.

  5. I remember reading how ants attract other ants to food by releasing pheromones and building a path for them to follow. Yeah, I played SimAnt when I was a kid! :)

  6. As a writer, there are so many ideas surrounding pheromones. Excellent post!

  7. Very educational Elise. I liked your crack about "male confusion." I can attest that it is really not a difficult issue to create...

  8. Phermones are really powerful. I've read recently where they are trying to employ them on insect populations to keep certain ones under control. I don't know if this is a good idea or not. The skeptic in me feels that nature will react in unpredictable ways.

  9. I totally find this fascinating! And I'm laughing at Slam Dunk's comment, LOL... And a bit freaked by Michael's...

  10. Jack: SimAnt, haven't hear that in a while! (:

    Mina: Yeah, I've read all kinds of illusions to pheromones especially in vampire novels.

    Slam Dunk: Must be that broken X chromosome you guys have to deal with... (;

    Michael: Everytime we mess with Mother Nature, shit hits the fan.

    Morgan: LOL! Wish I could post more for you. I'm just barely scratching the surface here...

  11. Stop bullying the ants, just because you're bigger!

  12. FANTASTIC POST! Oh, Elise, you crack me up. And I agree with Nick, stop bullying the ants. haha Well, I have no place to speak. There's this bug that infests my parents yard called a box elder. They are alive for one purpose only--to mate. When they are *coughs* doing their thing.... I kick them apart. Yep, I'm mean but they reproduce like mad and I hate them. The are the evil spawn of the devil.

    Ok, so I'm gonna have to try out the breaking an ant trail sometime. That'll be fun but totally mean.

    1. LOL! Box elder bug, what a great example of aggregation pheromone! Ok, I'll stop messing with ants if you stop interrupting Box elder bugs. HAha. But I do feel sorry for your parents because Box elder infestations are a pain to get rid of. Your folks may need to call a good pest management professional for a long term solution.

  13. Gosh I had no idea there were so many different "strengths" lol. I always thought they were more of an "attraction" chemical :)

  14. Mmm... love the way you've presented the fun facts...
    Seems that there's a pheremone to suit every occasion... and for every fantasy...
    Very interesting!

  15. Aloha Elise,

    After reading your comments, I had noooo idea what sort of topics you cover in your blog (how could I? :)

    But, I have to admit, reading a *very* interesting post on those phermazoid things the bugs make was *not* on my list.

    I can only imagine what the fly on the wall must have thought while you and your bud were drinking Buds :)

    PS... thanks for the follow - am doing the same - and if you ever want to chat further (re. my post) I'm all bug ears :)

    0K, enough dumb jokes... nice to "meet" a real-life entomologist :)

  16. Jessica: Isn't it amazing? It is one of the many ways insects communicate.

    Michelle: And I'm sure there are some we are not even aware of... (:

    Mark: Thank you, on all counts.

  17. I may be remembering incorrectly, but do some plants also "communicate" like this?


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