Have termites created a new “super hybrid”?
If you are planning to buy a house, you must be aware of the importance of having building inspection. One of the main reasons for a building and pest inspection is the possible identification of ‘super termites”.
The world’s most damage causing termites
Coptotermes gestroi (Asian subterranean termites) and Coptotermes formosanus (Formosan subterranean termites) are the world’s most damage causing termite species.
Earlier on, scientists believed that interbreeding between them was not possible because their swarming seasons were separate and distinct. However, they are now present in large numbers in South Florida due to human activity and climate change effects.
Research on super termites
A team of entomologists from University of Florida published their research findings in PLOS ONE journal as regards the two species of termites and revealed:
- In places where the two species of termites are interbreeding, there is an overlap of seasons. The male termites from the Asian breed prefer mating with Formosan females. This increases the hybridization risk.
- Nan-Yao Su, entomology professor, Fort Lauderdale Research & Education Center, feels the preference of the Asian male termites is because of more mating pheromone produced by the Formosan female termites compared to their Asian counterparts.
- Florida researchers are bringing up a hybrid colony in the laboratory. The colony is seen to be growing at double the speed when compared with the same-species colonies. This suggests that a hybrid variety of “Super Termites” is on its way.
Importance of building inspection in termite infestations
Researchers are not yet sure as to whether the lab bred colony is capable of reproducing. However, even sterile colonies are expected to be dangerous.
According to professor Su, the hybrid colonies’ potential to cause damage is a serious threat to homeowners. This is because termite colonies typically survive for 20 years.
Thomas Chouvenc, a research assistant working with Su, said that the establishment of colonies of hybrid termites in the near future can dramatically increase the damage caused to structures.
As the hybrid colonies reproduce at a faster rate, there is a higher possibility of them spreading to other areas. Asian and Formosan termites are known for this behaviour. Though the Formosan termite is originally from China, it is widely present in the southeastern parts of the U.S. Asian termites are more widespread. They can be seen even in the Caribbean islands and Brazil.
Hybrid termites pose serious threats in Australia, too
The Florida research findings do not highlight the seriousness of the situation, according to Ed Vargo, entomology professor at Texas A and M University. He warns that the most destructive species of subterranean termites in the world are being brought together because of human activity and are being spread to places that are not native to them. Further, they are hybridizing.
In addition to presenting a threat to Australia’s biodiversity, the possibility of the local species of termites interbreeding with those that are not native to the country and bringing in changes to termite behaviour, because of environmental and climate changes instigated by humans, is very high.
Therefore, if you are thinking about buying a home, you really want to make a building inspection your top priority.
You can get more information on the topic from these resources:
- Study by Nan-Yao Su, Ericka E. Helmick and Thomas Chouvenc published in PLoS One, 2015.
- Article published in ScienceDaily dated March 25, 2015 based on studies carried out by the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida.