Dynamics of foraging trails in the Neotropical termite Velocitermes heteropterus (Isoptera: Termitidae)
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Foraging behavior in termites varies with the feeding habits of each species but often occurs through the formation of well-defined trails that connect the nest to food sources in species that build structured nests. We studied the formation of foraging trails and the change in caste ratio during foraging in the termite Velocitermes heteropterus. This species is widespread in Cerrado vegetation where it builds epigeal nests and forages in open-air at night. Our aim was to understand the processes involved in the formation of foraging trails, from the exploration of new unmarked areas to the recruitment of individuals to food and the stabilization of traffic on the trails, as well as the participation of the different castes during these processes. Foraging trails were videotaped in the laboratory and the videos were then analyzed both manually and automatically to assess the flow of individuals and the caste ratio on the trails as well as to examine the spatial organization of traffic over time. Foraging trails were composed of minor workers, major workers, and soldiers. The flow of individuals on the trails gradually increased from the beginning of the exploration of new areas up to the discovery of the food. The caste ratio remained constant throughout the foraging excursion: major workers, minor workers and soldiers forage in a ratio of 8:1:1, respectively. The speed of individuals was significantly different among castes, with major workers and soldiers being significantly faster than minor workers. Overall, our results show that foraging excursions in V. heteropterus may be divided in three different phases, characterized by individual speeds, differential flows and lane segregation.