Chemical Self-Defense by Termite Workers: Prevention of Autotoxication in Two Rhinotermitids

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Science  18 Dec 1981:
Vol. 214, Issue 4527, pp. 1363-1365
DOI: 10.1126/science.214.4527.1363


Soldiers of the lower termites Prorhinotermes simplex and Schedorhinotermes lamanianus (Isoptera, Rhinotermitidae) have electrophilic contact poisons used in colony defense. Workers of these termites die when exposed to the defense secretion of the other species, but survive when exposed to chemicals from conspecific soldiers. Detoxication occurs by an initial substrate-specific reduction of the electron-deficient double bond of the nitroalkene (Prorhinotermes simplex) or vinyl ketone (Schedorhinotermes lamanianus) followed by complete catabolism to acetate.