Termite Pheromones

A Carolina Essentials™ Investigation

Total Time: 30 mins

Prep: 90 mins | Activity: 30 mins

Life Science


High School


This investigation demonstrates how worker termites sense pheromones. Students observe and document motions of termites under 2 different conditions: pencil circles and pen circles. The investigation may be used as a discovery introduction or as a confirmatory investigation to pheromones and their effect on animal behavior.

Essential Question

What role do pheromones play in animal behavior? (Discuss with students to direct their thinking during the investigation.)

Investigation Objectives

  1. Investigate if termites respond to synthetic pheromones.
  2. Determine if pheromones guide a termite’s path.

Next Generation Science Standards* (NGSS)

Science & Engineering Practices

Constructing Explanations

Disciplinary Core Ideas

LS1.A: From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes

Crosscutting Concepts

Cause and Effect


Safety and Disposal

Handle the animals with care and respect. Wear safety goggles and gloves.


Place termites in a resealable bag, store in the freezer for 1 week, then dispose of them in the trash. Adhere to all local, state, and federal materials disposal guidelines.


Prepare two 2.5-oz plastic cups with lids per group by adding a small piece of damp paper towel that covers the bottom of the cup. Each group needs 2 cups.


Place 2 termites in 1 of the cups at each station.

Student Procedures

  1. Fold the piece of copy paper in half widthwise (hamburger style), making a sharp crease.
  2. Unfold the paper and draw a large circle in pencil on one half of the paper. Trace over the circle several times to make the outline heavy and dark.
  3. On the other half of the paper draw a large circle using the black BIC® pen. Retrace the circle several times to make it dark and heavy.
  4. Gently place one termite in the center of the pencil drawn circle. Observe the termite motions for 5 to 10 minutes. Record your observations.
  5. Gently move the termite to the center of the ink circle using the soft brush. Observe and record the termite motions for 5 to 10 minutes.
  6. Place the first termite in the empty cup using the soft brush.
  7. Repeat with the second termite, but this time begin with the ink circle. Record your observations.
  8. Place the second termite in the cup with the first one.

Teacher Preparation and Tips

  1. Demonstrate folding the paper.
  2. Demonstrate the size and weight of the circle.
  3. This must be a BIC® black pen. It most closely mimics termite pheromones
  4. Collect your own termites. Only workers will follow the ink trail. Workers are creamy white, soft-bodied, and wingless.
  5. Demonstrate this step.
    Ask students why they are using 2 termites. Termites may be used for multiple classes.
  6. Make sure students don’t brush termites onto the floor.
  7. Students may record data in a class or lab notebook. Ask students why they are using a pencil circle first.

Tech tip: Allow students to record termite movements for online notebooks or class presentations.

Data & Observations

Descriptions, drawings, or video of termite movement. (The termite should follow the black pen circle but not the pencil circle.)

Analysis & Discussion

1. Compare the movements of the termites in each circle.

The termites should follow the black or blue BIC® pen circle.

2. What is the reason for the movement?

The formulation of the BIC® ink smells like termite pheromones.

3. What role do pheromones play in animal behavior?

Pheromones are excreted chemicals that trigger a social response in members of the same species. Pheromones are chemicals that can impact the behavior of the receiving individual. Certain kinds of pheromones, including alarm pheromones, food trail pheromones, and sex pheromones, affect behavior or physiology. Pheromones are well-documented in many insects.

*Next Generation Science Standards® is a registered trademark of Achieve. Neither Achieve nor the lead states and partners that developed the Next Generation Science Standards were involved in the production of, and do not endorse, these products.

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