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For The First Time In History Researchers Discover Termite Colonies That Are Completely Free Of Males

You do not have to be a professional biologist to know that sexual reproduction is essential for the continuation of nearly all animal species. Of course, this means that each animal species must be comprised of both male and female individuals. How could any animal species that lacks either a male or female sex possibly perpetuate further generations? While sexual reproduction is the norm for nearly all of earth’s organisms, it is not the only form of reproduction that exists. A few organisms are able to reproduce offspring through asexual reproduction. In these cases, only one sex is needed, and this sex is almost always the female sex. Recently, researchers from Japan published the first ever study that describes certain termite colonies as being completely free of males. These colonies, although rare, are not negatively affected in any way by the absence of males. In fact, many evolutionary biologists believe that these all-female termite colonies may benefit from asexual reproduction.

For the most part, all social insect groups, such as bees, ants and wasps, live within colonies that are made up of a roughly equal number of males and females. There are some bee species, however, that also reproduce asexually. The asexual termite colonies that were recently discovered in Japan were all comprised of a drywood termite species known as Glyptotermes nakajimai. Obviously, since these termite colonies don’t contain males, offspring emerge from unfertilized eggs. The researchers explored four different Japanese islands in search of asexual termite colonies. While the Glyptotermes nakajimai species has always been known to be comprised of a mix of males and females, two islands contained colonies of Glyptotermes nakajimai that were comprised entirely of females. This indicates that all termite species have the potential for becoming all-female under certain conditions.

According to the researchers, all-female termite colonies may be at an advantage over mixed sex colonies. For example, termite soldiers use their heads as weapons against enemies, and termite workers must build tunnels that can accomodate their head sizes. These tunnels must be narrow in order to prevent the entrance of enemy insects. Unfortunately, in mixed sex colonies, the head sizes vary, and are sometimes so large that workers are forced to build larger tunnels which, unfortunately, can be infiltrated by enemies. In female-only colonies, the soldier head sizes are relatively small, and do not vary much in size, which allows workers to build narrower tunnels that cannot be traversed by most termite enemies. In other words, all-female termite colonies live within nests that are safer from enemy infiltration.

Do you think that there exists many more all-female termite colonies that have yet to be discovered?