Do termites eat faster when subjected to rock music? One writer takes a look at this claim, and his findings may surprise you.
Orkin Pest Control currently has an advertising campaign where the Orkin Man takes on a MythBusters-type role to determine if commonly held beliefs about different pesky insects are “scientific facts or scientific fakes.” A recent commercial in this campaign examines the belief that rock music makes termites eat wood faster. The video shows several groups of termites who are subjected to different types of music—a variation of rock music or a set of twins playing a soothing melody on their harps. The termite groups are each given a miniature wooden guitar to eat. After a set period of three days, the guitars are examined to reveal that termites apparently do eat wood twice as fast when subjected to rock music. A lab technician begins to give a scientific explanation, but is cut off by the Orkin Man. So two questions remain: Who came up with this notion in the first place? And if termites do eat wood faster when subjected to rock music, then why is this so?
The question: “Do termites eat faster when listening to rock music?” is not one which Orkin invented for this advertising campaign. On March 31, 2013, the factoid appeared as a post on Reddit.com in the Today I Learned category. And while the YouTube video of this commercial was posted on June 17, 2014, the factoid in question has appeared in multiple places on the Internet long before this date.
The beverage company Snapple compiled a list of “real facts” which are posted on their website (and are also printed under their bottle caps), and #33 is the affirmative answer to the termite question in question. The earliest evidence of this factoid originating with Snapple is on an archived forum from 2003 called Antsmarching.org, where readers were encouraged to post the factoid printed under their Snapple bottle caps. Following Snapple’s publication of this factoid, multiple pest control companies have jumped on the band wagon to use it as a vehicle to show off their expertise.
Once such company, Ehrlich Pest Control, posted an article on the blog, “deBugged: The Pest Control Blog of North America” on September 15, 2011, which traces the factoid about termites and rock music even further back. It turns out an entomologist from Davis, California, discovered a relationship between termites and rock music in 1968, according to an article from the same year in the Miami News.
Why It Is True
The preference termites hold for rock music had thus far been determined to involve the frequency range where music of this genre is composed. A peer-reviewed study published by the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America asserts that termites use frequencies to determine the size of a block of wood and whether that wood is already an established food source for termites. Additionally the study claims that vibrations play an important role in the communication of termites with each other and help them determine how to contribute to the colony.
A relationship between termite eating habits and rock music was discovered as early as 1968, but the question used in the Orkin commercial likely comes from factoids placed underneath the bottle caps of Snapple brand beverages starting in 2002-2003. According to at least one peer-reviewed, scientific publication, termites do use frequency and vibrations to gather information and make decisions. Thus, the frequencies involved with rock music do appear capable of encouraging termites to eat wood at twice the normal rate.