Insect Communication Patterns

Like humans and animals, bugs communicate with one another and the environment around them. While they may communicate, their reasons and methods for communicating vary greatly from humans.

Why Do Insects Communicate?

b2ap3_thumbnail_Viceroy_Butterfly.jpgThere are many different types of insect communication styles and purposes, but these can all be broken down into three main categories.


One of the main reasons bugs communicate is to locate and identify members of the opposite species and to facilitate a courtship or mating ritual.


Often, bugs communicate to deceive or mimic predators and to express threat or submission.  Similarly, they also communicate to express their presence or location and to establish and maintain their territory.


On the other hand, their communication patterns also help them to recognize nestmates and kin, and to help provide information on the location of food and resources.

How Do Insects Communicate?

b2ap3_thumbnail_communication.jpgLike all other animals, insects use their senses to acquire information about their environment.


For every sense, there are many ways that insects communite. For example, Antennal tapping on the hind legs is used during tandem running in both ants and termites.  This is a "follow-the-leader" behavior in which the tapping informs the leader that she has not lost her disciple.  If tapping stops, the leader instinctively turns around and searches in ever-widening circles until she re-establishes contact with the follower.  


Insects use chemical signals more than any other form of communication. Chemical hormones such as allelochemicals are signals that travel from one animal to some member of a different species.  These include defensive signals such as repellents, compounds used to locate suitable host plants, and a vast array of other substances that regulate interspecific behaviors.


Sound serves as a very effective communication.  It can be made to vary in frequency (high pitch vs. low pitch), amplitude (loudness), and periodicity (the temporal pattern of freqency and amplitude).  Together, these three variables can create an extremely wide and complex range of signals -- from an insect's mating call to human speech and vocal music. 

Insects have a wide variety of ways that they can create acoustic messages with their bodies and often produce and hear sound frequencies well about 20,000 hertz, far above the human range of hearing.


Visual cues help insects to communicate a variety of different information. This can be as simple as the markings and colors on a butterfly, signaling to other insects which species they are. It can also include active signals, such as in fireflies, who use a series of intricate light flashes in their mating rituals.

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