Insect Communication

How do insects communicate? Since many insects do not see very well they locate others of their species, including their mates, and host plants, etc. by odors and other senses. Insects use chemicals called pheromones to communicate, as well as some special movements and behavior. In this activity students can practice communicating as insects do.



Film containers

Paper towels

A variety of strong scents such as vanilla extract, coffee grounds, garlic, soap, or vinegar


What To Do

Place a small piece of paper towel in each film canister. Wet the paper towels with the scented material, making a pair of containers with each scent. Cap the containers tightly. Distribute the containers so each student has one. Tell the students that someone else in the class has the same scent they do. Instruct the students to find their scent partner without talking. This is similar to how insects communicate.



1. Were you able to find your scent partner? How?

2. Would this type of communication work if you had a cold?



Insects communicate in different ways than humans. One common way for insects to communicate is by scent and smell. Insects can use their sense of smell to determine if another insect belongs to the same species or if it is male or female. The antennae and the cerci are the cricket parts used to smell. There are tiny holes in these appendages through which air can flow. Molecules in the air come into contact with nerve receptor sites that send sensory information to the brain. Insects gain a great deal of information about the world around through smell.


Sources Glen Needham, Associate Professor of Entomology, The Ohio State University.

© S. Olesik, WOW Project, Ohio State University, 2002.