The Role of Salivary Enzymes in the Detection of Polysaccharides in the Termite Reticulitermes flavipes Kollar (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae)

Jacob A. Cypret, Timothy M. Judd


This study tested the ability of the termite Reticulitermes flavipes to detect the presence of large polysaccharides by breaking them down using their saliva. Previous work has found that the saliva of Reticulitermes contains cellulase and amylase but not xylanase. In several experiments, lab colonies were given choices between glucose and starch in the presence and absence of an amylase inhibitor or a choice between xylan and xylose. The results found that there was no preference between artificial food that contained equal amounts of starch and glucose but termites did prefer food containing xylose over food containing xylan. In addition, the presence of an amylase inhibitor in an artificial food source reduced the termite’s preference for food containing starch. The results confirm that the enzymes are necessary for termites to detect the presence of polysaccharides Termites have been found to prefer denser wood and higher concentrations of cellulose. The mechanism found here provides an explanation of how wood density is determined by termites. 


termites, amaylase, food selection, sugars, Reticulitermes.

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