Researchers have stated that two of the most damaging termite species are mating in South Florida, producing hybrid termite colonies, and are developing at twice the normal rate of other termites.
According to the researchers from the University of Florida, the Asian subterranean termites and the Formosan subterranean termites, which are invasive species in many areas of the world and who damage many local climates and habitats outside their native lands of East Asia, are interbreeding between mating seasons in Florida.
Nan-Yao Su, professor at the Entomology Department of University of Florida, and the lead author of the study, said, “Formosan and Asian termites together are the reason behind much of the estimated $40 billion termite damage globally. Their hybrid offspring might raise the loss considerably. It means within a shorter period of time homeowners will see the damage.”
The researchers have blamed climate change for the interbreeding of the termites, as Asian and Formosan termites used to live in distinct regions and swarm at different times. However, by 2013, both the swarming season and the territory of each species had grown to overlap. The researchers discovered that Asian male termites have a preference for Formosan females, and that their colonies comprises of around 160 individuals within a year as against 60 in a single-species colony.
However, the researchers added that whether the hybrid offspring are sterile or fertile cannot be known till the colonies reach around five years of age, when new kings and queens normally start reproducing. They believe that if the termites can reproduce, the hybrid termites might carry the invasive features of their parent species and spread outside Florida.
“Because a termite colony can live up to 20 years with millions of individuals, the damaging potential of a hybrid colony remains a serious threat to homeowners even if the hybrid colony does not produce fertile winged termites. This is especially true when the colony exhibits hybrid vigor as we witnessed in the laboratory,” added Su.
The findings were published in the PLOS One journal.