Termite Trails

(1 review)


The ink in Papermate brand ballpoint pens contains a similar chemical to termite trail pheromone, and drawing a line will cause the termites to follow it. This doesn’t occur with other brands of ballpoint pens, however. By experimenting with various pens, students infer what causes the trailing behavior, and consequentially learn more about pheromone communication.

There are two versions of the termite experiments available from Carolina Biological for free download:

Termite Behavioral Investigation: Follow That Trail!

Group Behavior: Social Insects is a set of inquiry-focused lessons, but is not available for free.

Note that you can also purchase a termite kit from Carolina Biological. Purchase of the kit will include live termites, digital copies of expanded lesson plans, and assessment questions. Student artifacts will include written responses, experimental planning documents, and lab notebook entries.

Carolina also has a free Termite Care Guide. Most importantly, keep live termites in a dark, cool place. Live termites can be purchased from several different biological supply vendors, but Reticulitermes flavipes works best. You can also collect your own termites; there are instructions on how to build a termite “farm” here. (University of Connecticut)

Additional information

Grade Level


NGSS STEM Practices

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Resource Type

Standards Present


Media Format

PDF Download, Text/Web Page

Creation Date


Reviews (1)

1 review for Termite Trails

  1. LessonHiveAdmin

    We usually do not recommend commercial lesson plans, but this package is the best we’ve seen to investigate pheromone trail following in termites. It makes use of all 3 NGSS dimensions in inquiry investigations, includes assessments and grading rubrics, and is easy to follow. We especially like that students have to come up with a plan before starting their experiments.

    Some parts of the lesson can be downloaded for free, as indicated in the resource listing, but what we recommend is the full (not free, alas) lesson plans.

    As a side note, Zootermopsis species do not work well in trail following experiments. This is likely because the original research was on Reticulitermes species. Here’s a link to the open access research paper that originally described the ballpoint ink termite connection: https://meridian.allenpress.com/jes/article/33/1/97/76779/Isolation-and-Identification-of-2-Phenoxyethanol

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