Why ‘pretty’ termites can bring the house down

Healthy termites create stronger colonies capable of causing significant damage to buildings. 

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An Asian subterranean termite

An Asian subterranean termite © Thomas Chouvenc, UF/IFAS

 

Termites raised in large, mature colonies are more symmetrical compared to ‘ugly’ termites raised in young colonies, according to new research.

Scientists studied the Asian subterranean termite to find out how they brought up their young, and how that impacted larval development.

‘Pretty’ termites belonging to older colonies are raised in good conditions and develop well. These colonies can have millions of individuals and are able to cause significant structural damage to houses in their search for food (wood material).

Young colonies have fewer individuals to care for the larva, creating a more stressful environment that results in asymmetrical termites. These termites are typically short-lived and inefficient at maintaining the colony.

“A termite with poor symmetrical traits looks all messed up, like it was hit by a car,” said Thomas Chouvenc, from the University of Florida. “On the opposite end, termites raised in a mature colony in great conditions develop smoothly and are good-looking specimens.”

The Asian subterranean termite is one of the most damaging termite species in the world, and was recently introduced to Florida.

The colonies forage underground and create a complex network of galleries that can reach 100m in distance while they search for food. 

Read the abstract of the paper in Insectes Sociaux

 

Read more wildlife news stories in BBC Wildlife Magazine

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