The Pest Control Blog North America

Termites Like Rock Music

Termites like rock musicTime to get to the bottom of another odd pest ‘fact’. This Do Termites Like Rock Music blog piqued my interest: how on earth does that sort of pop-fact get generated without there being some grain of truth to it?

As a starting point- it’s very specific, isn’t it? Not just any music- Rock Music. Bach won’t get termites biting, they require Bachman Turner Overdrive; termites won’t chomp to Chopin, but Nickelback gets them nibbling?! What separates rock music from other genres?

It transpires that the composition of various genres of music can be categorised by the frequencies generated by the principal instruments used to generate it. For example; pop music when you look at it as a entire genre, tends to use electronic synthesizers generating sound within one frequency band, whilst acoustic guitars generate sound in a different band. Rock bands, by and large, are comprised of a vocalist, a drummer, a bass guitarist and at least one lead electric guitarist. The sound frequencies generated by the individual instruments characterise the genre and make it distinct in spectrum from other genres. Researchers have cited the frequency of 2.5KHz outputs for bass and electric guitars, which are distinctive of the rock genre. Sound engineering website Har-Bal.com specifies:

“600Hz – 3kHz: these frequencies also give presence but of a generally harder nature. High output in this region is fairly common in rock music as it gives it a hard edge that suites the genre.”

So, what is it that termites like about those frequencies? The answer lies with the research of an Australian group led by Theodore A Evan at CSIRO who has been looking at the responses of termites to vibration frequencies for some time. His group’s paper from 2004  states:

“termites had a clear preference for the 160-mm block when the 20-mm block was excited by the 2.8-kHz signal”

Further research by the same group in 2007 showed that the species of drywood termite tested used vibration to evaluate the size of piece of wood and that they showed a positive attraction to wood where other termites were feeding. This makes sense as in that it is likely to be a good food source and the termites need not expend further energy to find another one. Wooden blocks vibrated in the range also generated by electric guitars was more attractive to termites than blocks vibrated at other frequencies. Wow- science isn’t dull after all!

Whilst there seems to be a scientific basis for vibrations made by rock music instruments and termite feeding preferences, this team’s work is not the origin for the fact. A web search for variations of the phrase showed that it was being referenced long before 2004 and seems to have proliferated in the early 2000s as a Snapple “Real Fact”:

#33 Termites eat through wood two times faster when listening to rock music!

Snapple started putting facts like these on caps in 2002, according to a Washington Post staff writer. Now, whilst not all Snapple Real facts are entirely true, they must have been harvested from somewhere rather than made up. This odd-ball soft drink has certainly done a lot to popularise termites’ musical preferences- but where did it come from? It certainly pre-dates the Snapple cap, as it turns up on web searches from 2000 in a poster’s sig file.

I started to wonder if the fact had been culled from a book of weird facts, or something similar, so that was the next port of call. A chance clip from a publication called The Avent Gardener that happens to have been captured in Google’s book search gave the vital clue to solve the mystery: Dr Trenchard Bowelson.

Dr Bowelson was an extension entomologist supervising a Masters’ degree student by the name of Jeanne N. Collier who, it seems, had a penchant for rock and roll. Read the fantastic article for yourself from the September 18th 1968 edition of the Miami News, via an Associated News wire from San Francisco.

All of which leaves me wondering: do Spooky Tooth have any idea what they started…?

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5 Comments

  1. Posted September 21, 2011 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    Matt, you’re a legend. An excellent post!

    So, blind termites communicate using sound and try to assess the size of a piece of wood using sound too? They are the DareDevil of the insect world!

    So rock music makes all wood vibrate like a termite’s favourite piece of wood? I wonder if there is an opposite frequency which makes them think all wood is the wrong type or size? That could be very useful!

  2. Matt
    Posted September 21, 2011 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, pretty much Leyton. Electric guitars cause wood to vibrate at a similar frequency to that of a termite chewing wood. That makes other termites more likely to eat it too- beacuse it must be worthwhile and safe to feed on if another termite is also chowing down.

    Daredevil uses echolocation to internally visualise his surroundings, wheras can detect, generate and differientiate sound and vibrational harmonics.

  3. Gavlah
    Posted November 22, 2011 at 5:24 am | Permalink

    Nice. I had a whole heap of termites that I could have donated to the research experiments!

  4. Sam
    Posted July 25, 2012 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    Fantastic post!
    “Termites Like Rock Music” is incidentally a great name for a band.

    So am I write in thinking that playing music that is in a very different frequency would actually deter termites?

  5. Matt
    Posted July 30, 2012 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    Theoretically, the frequency emitted by termites chewing through poor quality timber might deter them if there was a better source of food nearby. Termite are more likely to mark timber than contains toxic compounds with a pheromone repellent.

    None of which is going to stop me from trying to put an increasingly bizarre range of musical instruments through the expenses system to observe feeding termite behaviour.

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