New Breed of Hybrid Super Termites Accidentally Created in Florida

A colony of hybrid termites
A colony of hybrid termites
Photo by PLOS One | CC2.0

Florida certainly is a melting pot, and apparently that even holds true for our invasive species. Scientists recently discovered that two types of invasive termites have started to interbreed in Florida, an extremely rare occurrence. How could this happen? Well, global warming might be to blame. 

Formosan subterranean termites and Asian subterranean termites, which both originated in Asia, are now found all over the worlds thanks the consequences of globalization and the ants catching a ride on wood shipments. Both species now wreak havoc on wooden homes across the world. In fact, between the two species, they're estimated to do about $40 billion of damage a year globally. Though, they usually keep their distance as they require distinct environmental conditions. In fact, there's only three places in the world where both species live side-by-side: Oahu, Hawaii, the southern tip of Taiwan, and right here in South Florida. 

The two species also have separate mating cycles, so usually when they live side-by-side they never cross the lines of inter-species termite baby making. However, according to new research published in PLOS One , something very strange has happened here in Florida. The termites have started interbreeding. 

Starting in 2013, researched noted that the species mating seasons started to overlap, most commonly between April 15 and May 15, and the termites started getting it on. Upon closer inspection, research discovered that the male Asian termites actually started to prefer mating with Formosan females. 

Researched then created colonies of the various different combinations of the termites in the lab, and found that the mixed-species colonies had a faster rate of development. Though, the research was not able to verify how cross-bred termites developed in the real world. 

The good news, however, is that researchers aren't sure yet whether the hybrid termites themselves would be able to reproduce or even reach sexual maturity. 

But why did the termites mating seasons start to overlap? The scientists believed that climate change could be to blame, and note that the past two summers in Florida were particularly hot. 

The research notes that while it's common for an invasive species to start interbreeding with a native species, it is incredibly rare for two invasive species to start mating. In fact, only a small handful of occurrences of this type have been found and only in insects. 

Oddly however, there are some fears of a new wave of hybrid invasive species emerging in Florida. Some scientists have warned that Burmese pythons and the African rock pythons, both currently wreaking havoc in the Everglades, could someday start to interbred. However, so far no examples of those feared "super snakes" have been found. 


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