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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Super Termites

Super Termites

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Saturday, March 7, 2020/Categories: natural history, environment, climate change

                                       Tarantula SciFi Horror Movie, 1955 (credit: file photo)

Like the creatures from a bad SciFi movie, a real "terminator" is out there and we may have created them. Publishing in the online journal PLOS-One researchers at the University of Florida report the successful hybridization of two termite species and the production of viable offspring.

According to the study: Formosan subterranean termites and Asian subterranean termites are the two most economically important termites in the world. Both pest species have spread throughout the world by human activities. Their distributions overlap in only three narrow areas due to distinct ecological (niche) requirements. Commenting on the work the investigators said:

In south Florida, the dispersal seasons of both species overlapped for the first time on record and matings of heterospecific individuals were observed in the field. In the lab, heterospecific (different species) and conspecific (same species) pairings had an equal colony establishment rate, but hybrid colonies had twice the growth rate of same conspecific colonies, suggesting a potential case of hybrid vigor.

Because of their ecological differences, the two species rarely interacted but in south Florida the timing of their mating patterns has changed and they now overlap. Climate change is the suspected driver of this development. The two species now "swarm" together and this has created the inter-specific hybrids observed in the field.

               Asian Termite Species Distribution and Inter-specific Hybrid Colonies  (credit: PloS-One)

After cockroaches, termites are one of the most persistent insect pests building owners encounter. The National Pest Management Association says: "termites eat 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, meaning damage to wood structures can happen very quickly. NPMA has estimated termite damages exceed $5 billion and the losses of approximately 600,000 homes each year in the US."

The studies are continuing to confirm if the observed hybrid termites are producing fertile offspring but one of the leaders of the study said:

“the combination of genes between these two species has resulted in highly vigorous hybridized colonies that can develop twice as fast as the parental species. Our results raise a tangible concern about the hybridization of two major destructive pest species. Such hybrids would likely be associated with a new economic impact.”

Potentially, these are very bad bugs, another example of biology impacting an economy and being expanded by climate change effects. Be aware of the Super Termites.



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