A new study conducted at the University of Florida recently reported that two of the most invasive termite species known in the entire world are “hooking up”. Their offspring has the potential to produce a powerful new termite hybrid in South Florida. Researchers concluded that this super hybrid termite can reproduce faster than either parent species and might have a larger range giving way to new nesting habitats.
The Asian (Coptotermes gestroi) and Formosan (Coptotermes formosanus) subterranean termite species cause an estimated $40 billion worth of damage worldwide. The Asian termite is from tropical Southeast Asia, while the Formosan hails from the more moderate China and Taiwan. Both types of termite have evolved separately for hundreds of thousands of years, but now human movement and trade have brought the invasive species together in Taiwan, Hawaii and South Florida.
Lead researcher Thomas Chouvenc, an assistant research scientist of entomology at the University of Florida, has observed the two mating and raising concerns that the hybrid offspring might have a temperature tolerance potential to stretch from North Carolina to Brazil.
“That is the worst-case scenario,” said Chouvenc, who has observed the hybrids growing in the lab in South Florida. The Asian termite typically mates in February, and the Formosan usually mates in April. In March 2013, Chouvenc said he was “extremely surprised” when he found the two species mating at the same time. It’s highly likely the warming climate has changed the termites’ mating season.