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Riled Up is a journal of science, the environment, exploration, new technology, and related commentary.  Contributors include scientists, explorers, engineers, and others who provide perspectives and context not typically offered in general news circulation.  For interested readers, additional resources are included.

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Super-Termites Arrive

Super-Termites Arrive

Them, SciFi horror movie, 1954 (credit: Warner Brothers Studios)

Like creatures from a 1950's SciFi picture, a real 'terminator' is out there. We may have created it.

Publishing in the online journal PLOS-One researchers at the University of Florida report the successful mating of two species of termites species that produced fertile offspring. According to their study: Formosan termites and Asian termites are the two most economically damaging pests in the world. Both species have been spread across the globe by human activities. Their distributions overlap in only three small areas due to the distinct ecological requirements of each insect. Commenting on the study's findings:

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 conspecific colonies, suggesting a potential case of hybrid vigor.

Because of their ecological differences, the two species rarely interacted in the wild but in south Florida the timing of their mating patterns has been altered and now overlap. Climate change is the suspected as the driver of this situation. The two species now "swarm" together and this has created the inter-specific termites observed in the field by the research team.


                 Asian termite species distribution and inter-specific hybrids  (credit: PloS-One)

After cockroaches, termites are one of the most destructive insect pests building owners encounter. The National Pest Management Association (NPMA) 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 research in Florida continues to observe the destructive capacity of the hybrid critters as one investigator 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.”

These are 'bad bugs' indeed and represent another example of where biology negatively impacts an economy and is being amplified by climate change. Super-Termites may soon appear in a house near you. WHB

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