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The termite superswarm threat in US

We have got it pretty bad termite-wise here in the great land of Oz, but naturally if there is going to be one place in the world that does it bigger and better (or worser really in this case) then of course it was going to be the good old U. S. of A. Yip, while we have a shocker of a problem with the wood eaters, the Americans seems to have supersized theirs with a new and scary phenomenon called the superswarm.

What on earth is a superswarm you might be asking? Well it is a swarm that is super… bad. Well, it is not just a ‘bad’ swarm, all swarms of termites are ‘bad’, but an absolutely huge one that is made up of a new hybrid termite. These massive swarms of termites have been found in South Florida and they do not bode well for future problems with termites.

So a recent study by a group of experts at the University of  Florida have just published a study in the highly regarded journal PLOS ONE that has some very concerning news. Two of the worst species of termites in the world, the Asian and Formosan subterranean have begun breeding, forming a new hybrid species and creating ‘superswarms’ that threaten to increase the risk of termite infestation.

Hang on, what is a hybrid? Well a hybrid is the offspring of two separate species. Generally they are not fertile but sometimes they are and when that happens they often become a new species of their own. One of the most famous hybrids is the liger, which is a lion and a tiger. But while a liger sounds pretty cool, a new hybrid form of termite does not sound as cool. Especially as it is a combination of two of the most destructive species of termites.

So what has happened here? Well as the study outlines, these two species have been separate for many millions of years. They have, until now, had separate breeding seasons that have not overlapped, which has ensured that there has been no interbreeding. However, recently they have begun to start overlapping and Asian termites have been found to prefer breeding with Formosan termites rather than their own females.

“This is worrisome, as the combination of genes between the two species results in highly vigorous hybridized colonies that can develop twice as fast as the two parental species,” said Thomas Chouvenc, an assistant researcher at the University of Florida.

These hybrid colonies that are now erupting all over the state and are growing so large that they is concern that they will begin to spread beyond the state. Thomas Chouvenc, explained that “the establishment of hybrid termite populations is expected to result in dramatically increased damage to structures in the near future”.

While they are not sure whether the hybrid offspring are fertile or not yet, even if they aren’t there could be serious repercussions and if they are then they could be the next generation of super pest!

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