Social insects generally reproduce at rapid rates. Termites are known for having highly populated colonies. Many colonies can contain up to fifty thousand individual termites or more. Formosan subterranean termite colonies can contain millions of termites. Termite reproduction occurs during swarming season. Theoretically, if two different termite species swarm in the same location simultaneously, individual termites from each species could mate to produce hybrids. Many other animals can mate to produce hybrids, but scientists have yet to find evidence to suggest that two termite species can produce viable hybrid offspring. Generally, interspecies activity between two different termite species is rare. This lack of interspecies mating is due to many factors, such as different sex pheromones and interspecies aggression. It is common for native animals of two different species to produce hybrids, but it is very rare for two invasive species to produce a hybrid species. This is because invasive species originate from different areas of the globe. However, researchers have found evidence to suggest that two different invasive termite species in America can, indeed, mate to produce hybrids.
Interspecies mating can result in durable and relatively healthy offspring, such as mules, which result from the coupling of horses and donkeys. However, interspecies mating more often produces physically challenged and sterile organisms. Although termite interbreeding is nearly unheard of, two of the most destructive termites species in the world have succeeded in producing hybrid offspring. In the US, the invasive Formosan and Asian subterranean termite species share overlapping habitats, and they swarm under the same environmental conditions at the same time of year. This has resulted in successful reproduction between the two species, and it marked the first instance of two invasive termites being able to produce offspring. It was found that Asian subterranean termite males are attracted to the sex pheromones released by female Formosan termites. This means that both termite species respond to the same cue for female attractiveness. Initially, colonies of these hybrid termites were even more vigorous than their parent’s colonies. However, researchers believe that these hybrid colonies may develop maladaptive behaviors that prevent them from producing swarming reproductive termites. Therefore, these hybrid colonies may not become mature enough to form new colonies.
Do you think that hybrid termites will become a threat in the future?