Are the vaccines, masks, and lockdowns getting you down? Imagine if you could just get rid of a disease with a kiss. Ants will swap spit that contains disease-resistant compounds in order to immunize each other. Termites have a similar mechanism with the difference that they excrete the compounds instead of regurgitating them.

Now researchers are looking at these behaviors and others in order to figure out how we can use similar systems in our own society. Of course, spit and feces swapping is not what they really have in mind, but understanding how these behaviors developed and their underlying mechanisms can help create new solutions of our own during pandemics.

Some theories about the evolution of the complex ant and termite colony suggest that defeating pathogens has been a big driving factor in the development of the eusocial nature of these insects. After all, it would not be that hard for ants to forage and survive on their own. But dealing with dangerous fungi and pathogens can be a lot harder. Of course, there are other factors at play here, such as the ability to create large, safe shelters, from which a majority of the ants do not have to venture out of until they reach the end of their lifespan, but tightly-knit social behavior seems to be a strategy in defeating pathogens.

There are also other techniques that you might observe if you study the behavior of ants and termites. For example, when a member of the colony returns home infected with a dangerous microbe or fungus, other workers will start to groom and lick it in order to neutralize the threat with the disease-fighting compounds in their saliva and digestive systems. On the other hand, the infected members of certain species of termites will engage in a warning behavior that consists of twitches and shaking, which will repel other ants.

So these colonies have a repertoire of behaviors and adaptations at their disposal which help them fight off pandemics, similar to how we use masks, social distancing, extra sanitation measures, quarantines and vaccines to fight off COVID-19. And these disease-fighting behaviors are just a small subset of a larger array of tactics used to keep a giant colony running as efficiently as possible. It is why these insects can be such stubborn pests, and survive in a large variety of environments. It is also why we offer pest control services that can help you reduce the amount of damage that these insects do. Contact us today if you have a termite or ant infestation in your home.