SEP 24, 2018 7:10 PM PDT

All-Female Termite Colonies Observed for the First Time

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

In the case of most animal species, it takes both a male and a female for reproduction to take place. But a few exceptions to this rule do indeed exist, particularly in that of the insect kingdom.

Asexual reproduction isn’t a new concept by any means; in fact, researchers have known of its existence in specific ant and honeybee species for several years. But as a new study published this week in the journal BMC Biology denotes, this very same conduct has been observed and documented in the termite species Glyptotermes nakajimai for the very first time.

Researchers say all-female termite colonies can be found all over the place in Japan.

Image Credit: Pixabay

“Termite colonies were always found to have equal numbers of males and females, and to undergo sexual reproduction,” explained study lead author Toshihisa Yashiro, a biologist with the University of Sydney. “Our paper is the first demonstration that termites can do away with males completely, and get along fine just with females."

Related: Here's how lots of ants coordinate to move larger objects

Yashiro and his colleagues witnessed the peculiar circumstances after studying 37 separate termite colonies dispersed along the remote coastal areas of Japan. Astonishingly, these colonies were teeming with females, but there wasn’t a single male specimen anywhere to be found.

Curious about their findings, the researchers compared queens from these asexual colonies to queens from mixed-sex colonies from other parts of Japan in an attempt to learn more. The results showed how queens from the asexual colonies lacked any sperm in their spermathecae and how their eggs remained unfertilized.

Comparatively, and perhaps unsurprisingly, queens from the mixed-sex colonies had plenty of sperm stored up in their spermathecae. But the team also took note of something they didn’t expect: unfertilized eggs in the mixed-sex colonies were developing on their own, indicating how evolution may have played a role in the development and abundance of all-female colonies.

“Interestingly, we observed the occasional development of unfertilized eggs in the mixed-sex populations too. This suggests the ability to produce offspring from unfertilized eggs may have originated in mixed-sex ancestors and provided a potential pathway to the evolution of all-female colonies,” Yashiro added.

“We also found that all-female colonies had a soldier caste with a more uniform head size than their mixed-sex counterparts and fewer soldiers overall. This suggests that uniform female soldiers are more efficient at defense which may have contributed to the persistence and spread of the all-female colonies.”

Related: Worker ants intelligently regulate tunnel-digging efforts to avoid jams

It’s certainly interesting that all-female termite colonies can exist, but the study doesn’t go much further than to speculate based upon preliminary findings. Perhaps follow-up studies can validate whether all-female termite colonies are indeed more organized and efficient than the mixed-sex variants.

Source: Phys.org, BMC Biology

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
JUN 18, 2020
Cardiology
Healthy Eating Habits Lower the Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
JUN 18, 2020
Healthy Eating Habits Lower the Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
The results are in, eat your fruits and vegetables. A truth that society has known for some time, but data now confirms ...
AUG 02, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
In a First, Researchers Edit Cephalopod Genes
AUG 02, 2020
In a First, Researchers Edit Cephalopod Genes
Using the CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing tool, researchers have knocked out a gene in a cephalopod for the first time.
AUG 06, 2020
Plants & Animals
Swine Fever Threatens Critically Endangered Indian Hogs
AUG 06, 2020
Swine Fever Threatens Critically Endangered Indian Hogs
The Associated Press reports that the world's smallest and rarest wild pig species is undergoing its own virus lockd ...
AUG 14, 2020
Plants & Animals
Tracking the Iconic American Bison
AUG 14, 2020
Tracking the Iconic American Bison
The Great Plains of Montana are home to one of the United States' largest land restoration projects, known as the Am ...
SEP 01, 2020
Plants & Animals
Revealing a Mummy's Secrets With High-Resolution Scans
SEP 01, 2020
Revealing a Mummy's Secrets With High-Resolution Scans
Researchers have used a technique called micro–computer tomography (micro-CT) scanning to analyze mummified animal ...
SEP 24, 2020
Technology
What Drives Essential Sensing in Animals?
SEP 24, 2020
What Drives Essential Sensing in Animals?
What drives essential sensing in animals? Researchers at Northwestern University have developed a new theory that can pr ...
Loading Comments...