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Contrasting Micro/Nano Architecture on Termite Wings: Two Divergent Strategies for Optimising Success of Colonisation Flights

By Gregory S. Watson, Bronwen W. Cribb and Jolanta A. Watson


Many termite species typically fly during or shortly after rain periods. Local precipitation will ensure water will be present when establishing a new colony after the initial flight. Here we show how different species of termite utilise two distinct and contrasting strategies for optimising the success of the colonisation flight. Nasutitermes sp. and Microcerotermes sp. fly during rain periods and adopt hydrophobic structuring/‘technologies’ on their wings to contend with a moving canvas of droplets in daylight hours. Schedorhinotermes sp. fly after rain periods (typically at night) and thus do not come into contact with mobile droplets. These termites, in contrast, display hydrophilic structuring on their wings with a small scale roughness which is not dimensionally sufficient to introduce an increase in hydrophobicity. The lack of hydrophobicity allows the termite to be hydrophilicly captured at locations where water may be present in large quantities; sufficient for the initial colonization period. The high wettability of the termite cuticle (Schedorhinotermes sp.) indicates that the membrane has a high surface energy and thus will also have strong attractions with solid particles. To investigate this the termite wings were also interacted with both artificial and natural contaminants in the form of hydrophilic silicon beads of various sizes, 4 µm C18 beads and three differently structured pollens. These were compared to the superhydrophobic surface of the planthopper (Desudaba psittacus) and a native Si wafer surface. The termite cuticle demonstrated higher adhesive interactions with all particles in comparison to those measured on the plant hopper

Topics: Research Article
Publisher: Public Library of Science
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Provided by: PubMed Central

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