Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Training Termites

Florida is blessed with all manner of pests, beyond the kind that move here and build golf courses, condo's, and u-store it miniwarehouses. This post is not about those pests.

Today's pest post is about termites...who are only pests when they are eating something you don't want them too ... like the son who finds your bag of Kashi Dark Chocolate Chip Oatmeal cookies you cleverly hid behind the canned corn.

This is not about killing the little wood munchers. Nor is it about the cool symbiotic relationship they have inside their pastey bodies.
It's about training them to obey your every command ... sort of.

Termites depend on pheromones to find their way in a world of darkness. Pheromones are essentially chemicals that communicate a message. In the subterranean termite world, a pheromone trail tells them where to go. They are basically powerless to ignore these messenger scents.

It just so happens that certain very cheap pens, BIC pens especially, contain chemicals that mimic the termite trail pheromone scent. This little bit of serendipity opens up a whole world of termite fun.


So get yourself some termites, a cheap BIC pen, and a sheet of paper.
On the paper, make any design you wish with the pen and add your termites to the paper.

You will GASP in wonder (I did anyway) as the little wanderers find your ink masterpiece and begin to follow it as if it were the yellow brick road.

I have fun with this in my class each year when we get to Insects. I don't mention pheromones before the activity. I just bring in some termites and tell the kids that if they carefully coach and encourage the termites, they can train them to follow a pattern drawn on the paper.

Termites are blind and deaf, but the kids don't know that.

For 10 minutes or so, they are all bent over their papers, talking to termites, encouraging them, reprimanding them, etc.
It's a hoot.

Every once in a while some kid happens to be using a BIC pen and the termites obey.

"See, Cindy has the knack", I announce to the class. Cindy beams.

Eventually, being kids, they begin to figure out it has something to do with the type of writing instrument used.

THAT is the moment I explain what pheromones are and then everyone gets to borrow one of my BIC pens so they can be a termite master.

An obscure vocabulary word becomes part of their life experience.

So, if you could invent a pheromone spray that would carry a message that had to be obeyed, what would it be?

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kevin said...

"Send me home."

pissed off patricia said...

Probably just "peace everywhere"

What a fun lesson I learned here today. Happily I don't have any of the little critters to test it on.

Wayne said...

This is a great idea, FC!

Just peripherally, and in conjunction with POP's declaration of independence from the little pests, we had a visit from Glenn's father (from Wisconsin) a year ago. He's a handy sort of fellow who is good at various construction sort of jobs, and had many suggestions to make. But it had not occurred to him that, here in Georgia, we couldn't set wood directly into the ground. It surprised him that we were held hostage from implementing his many ideas because of termites.

LauraHinNJ said...

Cool party trick, but I'm not sure where I'd find the termites. Hopefully not around the house foundation!

MoMadness said...

I'm with POP. What more could you ask for than that?

roger said...

a spray for humans? how about "stop reproducing!!!"

maybe "stop killing each other, and other animals too."

Anonymous said...

'Send ca$h'

Fascinating - and way cool - nature lesson!

Alan said...

So, if you could invent a pheromone spray that would carry a message that had to be obeyed, what would it be?

"Go away and leave me alone."

Neat trick. Do you know who discovered the pheromone thing with BIC pens?


Mark said...

Now that is cool.

Laura said...

Ok, I really enjoyed this post and the lesson as well.
Learned something new here! We had termites at our house in G'ville and even though it has since been treated for them, I think i'll stock up on bic pens and forge a bic pen trail away from the house and out to the road where they'll get run over. (somehow...)

For humans, I'd post subliminal messages everywhere, along the lines of "no violence" and "just be kind".

seriously. too much violence in our world!

Oh, and because of where I live, I'd also leave another one that says "bulldoze all the condos..."

Great post!!!

p.s. where do you get the termites?

Rurality said...

How about just, "Obey me!" (I think I need that one to use on my husband.)

Note to self: don't write on house with BIC pens.

OldHorsetailSnake said...

What I'm wonderin' is where the hell you got the termites?

edifice rex said...

Let's see...."Kill your television" and "Be nice to everyone"! That's pretty cool termite stuff and they are one of the main reasons I firmly believe in building with concrete.
BTW, thanks for stopping by the blog the other day. Hopefully, things will get more intersting soon as we start some of the finish work.

Deb said...

Well, everyone else pretty much paraphrased what I'd say: "Let's all be nice and help each other out."

If I tried this tonight, the termites would be pretty sluggish. It's supposed to get below zero, and there's a wicked wind blowing out there through my poorly insulated porch where the computer sits. Gotta get some of those open fingertip gloves for blogging!

Abandoned in Pasadena said...

I can't wait to try this on someone, but I just don't know where to get termites. I'll have to wait until I spot some. Neat trick.

If I could invent a pheromone spray that would carry a message that had to be obeyed it would say, Lay down your weapons and get along with everyone in the world and live in harmony & in peace.

Floridacracker said...

Oh you are all too nice and apparently selfless. Sure, that world peace thing would make a great pheromone, but get real!
Look at the commercial possibilities, what about a scent that would:

This question came up a lot, "where do you get the termites?"
Under every fallen log and branch in my woods. They are as common as ants in a good natural Florida woods.

Would that it were so.

Are you sure you're in FL? :)

I know what you mean. I crack up every time I see a gardening book with a northern origin describe oak as good fence material. Oak in ground contact lasts about 6 months here ... termite ice cream.

I'm thinking serious money could be won with this bar trick.

True, but ...

would that mean i have to become a vegan? ugh. of course there could be a pheromone spray to make me like tofu ...

Great minds think alike.

Welcome to Pure Florida!
I don't know the answer to that question. I learned it from Professor Don Hall at UF, but the origin is a mystery to me.

You are missing the obvious one, the " Move out of Florida, retire to Idaho" spray. :)
Glad you liked the post.

Yes, the BIC paint company lasted about two weeks.

Apparently none of you nawtherners have decent termite populations.

Edifice Rex,
It's plenty interesting at your site. That's an amazing house project. Mine sits on concrete, then pt 2' x 12's, and then the unprotected wood starts.

Brrrrr, it's 58 degrees here with the screen door open and I'm chilly.

Here, I just roll over any rotting log in the woods.

vicki said...

I was SO happy when we didn't find any evidence of termites when the back wall came off the 80 year old Florida bungalow! But now I'm eager to come down and try this trick. I sent it on to Abby- she's laughing, too. Great post.

I guess I'm not so selfless- first thing I thought was, "Hang Christmas lights on the tree."

Alan appears to have giant rooster following him- no wonder he wants to be left alone.

Floridacracker said...

Yes, and "Take down and pack all decorations" might be nice too.