Termite Tribulations

Termite Tribulations

In research recently published in the journal Plos One, entomologists from the University of Florida postulate the emergence of a “super termite” created from the interbreeding of Asian and Formosan termites. These species of subterranean termites are some of the most destructive in the world, now there is alarming evidence that these species are interbreeding and creating new, even more destructive offspring.  These species have probably always been able to mate but have never had the opportunity to do so, until now.

The male Asian subterranean termite (brown abdomen) and the female Formosan subterranean termite (orange abdomen) are surrounded by their hybrid offspring. Scientists believe that changes in weather patterns have allowed, for the first time, overlap in swarming periods for these two, incredibly destructive species.

The male Asian subterranean termite (brown abdomen) and the female Formosan subterranean termite (orange abdomen) are surrounded by their hybrid offspring. Scientists believe that changes in weather patterns have allowed, for the first time, overlap in swarming periods for these two, incredibly destructive species.

The researchers believe that unusual and changing weather patterns have caused the swarming season of the two species to overlap which has allowed for introduction and subsequent mating. Their studies indicate that new hybrid colonies are developing and the offspring are maturing at twice the rate of their parents. It is still unclear whether the new generation is capable of reproducing, however, should they be capable this will be troubling for Florida and possibly elsewhere.  Co-author of the study Nan-Yao Su explains, “…a termite colony can live up to 20 years with millions of individuals, the damaging potential of a hybrid colony remains a serious threat to homeowners even if the hybrid colony does not produce fertile winged termites.” Asian and Formosan termites are responsible for more than 40 billion dollars of damage and economic losses. Due to this new discovery, the research team anticipates a dramatic increase in structural damage in the near future.

Unusually warm winters which we experienced in 2013 and 2014 explain the opportunity which allowed Asian and Formosan termites to interbreed. The University of Florida entomologists suggest that if climate change continues to affect weather patterns in this way, instances of interbreeding may become more frequent. Su states “Right now, we barely see the tip of the iceberg. But we know it’s a big one.”