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No. 14: Winter 1981 Supplement

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Beetles Make Scents

Termite nests frequently host foreign species that seem to be accepted as fellow termites. Can't termites recognize the invaders? The authors believe that termites probably recognize one another by specific hydrocarbon labels synthesized on their cuticles. If the alien species were to be somehow marked with similar chemical identifiers, the blind termites might not know the difference. Howard et al think this may be the case with a species of beetle often found integrated into termite society. By chemi-cally analyzing beetle and termite cuticles, they have found both wearing the same hydrocarbon labels. Furthermore, the beetles synthesize their own chemical masks. This is an astounding instance of parallel or convergent evolution between remotely related species.

(Howard, R.W. et al, "Chemical Mimicry as an Integrating Mechanism....," Science, 210:431, 1980.)

Comment. Synthesizing exactly the right hydrocarbons was certainly a great stroke of good fortune for the beetles!

From Science Frontiers #14, Winter 1981. 1981-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987