The insects rely on millisecond-long signal delays to find their way
A soldier termite can tell which way to run in a crisis by sensing SOS-message time delays — only hundredths of a human eyeblink long — with its feet.
Africa’s Macrotermes natalensis termite relies on a fighter caste to defend its hardened, meter-high-plus mounds and up to several thousand square meters of underground tunnels. When an aardvark or other predator gouges the insects’ home, termites known as major soldiers pound their heads against the floors. The vibrations from the drumbeat tell other soldiers to speed to the breach.
These headbanger alarms vibrate through the walls of tunnels at about 130 meters per second. What lets a soldier know which direction to go are the slight delays in the vibrations traveling from the soldier’s leg nearest the drumbeat source to its farthest leg, says Felix Hager of Ruhr University Bochum in Germany. A delay of as little as 0.20 milliseconds was enough to orient soldiers in a lab setup,