A hybrid species of super termites is taking over, and this time it’s not the fault of mad scientists!
On Earth, termites are among the most destructive pests, causing a billion+ dollars in damage annually in the U.S.A. alone. In Florida, scientists have been watching the development of a new hybrid species. This new “super termite” is claimed to be more destructive than other species; their colonies grow twice as fast as normal termites.
The hybrids are the offspring of two very hungry, exotic termite species which have begun mating far away from their homelands. Asian and Formosan subterranean termites are two of the most destructive species on the planet, living together in only a few places in the world, including Taiwan and Hawaii.
University of Florida researcher and entomologist, Thomas Chouvenc moved from his native France to South Florida just to study termites. “I come to work every day and I get surprised every day. Termites will do things you just don’t expect,” he says.
It was two years ago, Chouvenc was out gathering adult winged Asian termites (atales) when he made the important discovery. “Out of chance, I was using my butterfly net, you know, catching a few alates from Asian subterranean termites and boom … I got both Formosan and Asian at the same time.”
The two termite species spend the majority of their lives underground. It is only when the colony becomes large enough that it will produce winged adults to mate while swarming. Both of them swarming at the same time has never been seen, leading researchers to believe its likely due to climate change. But the next thing Chouvenc and his colleagues discovered was even more important.
The journal PLOS ONE published an article in which they say the world’s two most destructive termite species are mating, producing hybrid offspring.
Formosan females are larger than their Asian termite counterparts and for some reason are way more attractive to male Asian termites than to Formosan males. They mate and produce offspring which have a coloration somewhere in-between the two parent species’. The other key point is that the hybrids are producing individual termites at nearly double the rate as their parent species, meaning the colonies are growing faster, doing more damage.
There are still many questions to be answered. Top on the list is whether or not the hybrids are sterile; are they able to reproduce and create new colonies without interaction with the parent species? The other question is regarding their tolerance of climate. Asian termites need a tropical climate, which is why they are not in the continental states except Florida. With a potential new super pest of hybrid termites on the loose, we really must ask this time, has nature gone too far?!