What is Worse than a Termite Infestation? A Super-Termite Infestation
Gather ’round children while I tell you a tale of of invasive species gone bad. This time it has to do with termite sex.
In a study published last week in PLOS One, Florida researchers have uncovered a new hybrid species of termite formed as Formosan subterranean termites (Coptotermes formosanus) and Asian subterranean termites (C. gestroi) do the deed. While both of these species are invasive, they don’t typically overlap because their environmental needs are very specific. Unfortunately for Florida, (along with Taiwan and Hawaii) it is an excellent environment for both. The researchers observed the following:
“C. gestroi males preferentially engaged in mating behavior with C. formosanus females rather than females from their own species. In the laboratory, heterospecific and conspecific pairings had an equal colony establishment rate, but heterospecific incipient colonies had twice the growth rate of conspecific incipient colonies, suggesting a potential case of hybrid vigor.”
The larger Formosan termite females are preferred by the Asian termite males above females of their own species. “Hybrid vigor,” is a problem because these freaky termite babies potentially colonize twice as fast as either of their parent species. Oh, I forgot to mention, those two parent species are also the two most destructive termite species. Obviously this keeps getting better.
The thing that likely makes this especially our (humans) own fault is that- you guessed it- climate change, might have caused the two species to swarm at the same time, something that used to not happen.
Image of pregnant C. formosanus queen by USDA via Wikimedia Commons