Termites are sometimes dismissed as nothing however home-destroying pests, much less charismatic than bees, ants and even spiders.
The truth is, termites have been doing unbelievable issues for the reason that time of dinosaurs, sustaining advanced societies with divisions of labor, farming fungus and constructing cathedrals that flow into air the best way human lungs do.
Now, add “overthrowing the patriarchy” to that listing.
In a examine revealed this week in BMC Biology, scientists reported the primary discovery of all-female termite societies. Amongst greater than four,200 termites collected from coastal websites in southern Japan, the researchers didn’t discover a single male.
Toshihisa Yashiro, a postdoctoral fellow on the College of Sydney and lead creator of the paper, stated in an electronic mail that he was totally shocked by the invention: “I got a headache, because we believed that having both males and females is the rule in termite societies.”
The entire lack of males is uncommon throughout the animal kingdom, particularly in animals with superior societies. All-female lineages have beforehand been documented in a number of ant and honey bee species, however their colonies are already dominated by queens and feminine staff.
Termites, in distinction, are identified for having colonies wherein women and men each take part in social actions. Dr. Yashiro’s analysis is the primary, in different phrases, to exhibit that males might be discarded from superior societies wherein they as soon as performed an energetic position.
His group collected 74 mature colonies of Glyptotermes nakajimai, a termite that nests in drywood, from 15 websites in Japan. Thirty-seven of the colonies had been asexual and solely feminine, whereas the remaining had been mixed-sex. Egg-laying queens in asexual colonies saved no sperm of their reproductive organs and laid unfertilized eggs.
Genetic analyses urged that the asexual termites developed from ancestors that break up from different G. nakajimai round 14 million years in the past. The asexual termites have an additional chromosome in contrast with the sexual ones, suggesting the 2 teams could now be diverging into totally different species, stated Nathan Lo, an evolutionary biology professor additionally on the College of Sydney.
Tanya Dapkey, an entomologist on the College of Pennsylvania, stated that there was a lot to study from profitable “societies in nature run without any input from males.”
Edward Vargo, an entomology professor at Texas A&M College who was not concerned within the examine, added that figuring out how and why sure colonies developed asexuality would possibly yield perception on the massive query of “what is the purpose of sex and sexual reproduction.”
Dr. Yashiro has a number of hypotheses. To begin, sexual populations of G. nakajimai do sometimes produce offspring from unfertilized eggs, which maybe “pre-adapted” them to get alongside wonderful with out males, he stated.
Additionally, sexual copy introduces new genetic variation inside a species. However the asexual termites, that are present in distant, coastal areas, won’t have wanted that trait to combat off parasites and pathogens. And asexuality would have been an environment friendly strategy to broaden — asexual populations are identified to develop at twice the speed of sexual ones.
Essential to this transition could have been a willingness, by termite queens, to cooperate when establishing colonies. In most asexual colonies the researchers studied, a number of queens, as many as 25, had been discovered.
Moreover, the scientists seen that asexual colonies had fewer troopers than sexual ones. The all-female troopers in asexual colonies had been extra uniform within the measurement of their heads, which they use to dam enemies from invading their nests. It’s attainable that asexual troopers are extra environment friendly at protection, Dr. Yashiro stated.
On the finish of our interview, I requested Dr. Yashiro if he had final ideas to share. He declared, merely: “For asexual Glyptotermes nakajimai, the future is female!”