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Termites are one of the most abundant insect groups in the world. There are nearly three thousand species of termite already described by scientists, and more are discovered frequently. The world has also seen numerous termite species come and go during the course of evolution. Many extinct fossilized termite species have been found by researchers over the years. Most living termites belong to one genus known as termitidae. This termite genus comprises seventy five percent of all living termite species. There exists three other genuses that also contain numerous termite species, but there are two genuses that only contain one single species. One of these two genuses is referred to as Mastotermitidae. The Mastotermitidae genus is uniquely primitive. Most of the termites that belong to this genus have long since become extinct, but one keeps surviving in a world that has changed significantly during its evolutionary development. This primitive termite species is referred to as Mastotermes darwiniensis, and it physically resembles a cockroach more so than a typical termite.


The Mastotermes darwiniensis species is native only to Australia’s tropical and unforested northern regions. At some point in the past, this species was introduced into southern New Guinea, where it thrives today. Since researchers now know that termites originated from cockroaches, it is no wonder that the most primitive living termite species strongly resembles a roach. These roach-like features include a large body size, a large pronotum, veiny wings, and legs with five tarsomeres. Also like roaches, the Mastotermes darwiniensis species possesses fat cells that are specialized for harboring symbiotic bacteria. These cells have only been found in other roaches. The similarities do not stop there as these termites also lay egg-pods that are nicely ordered into two rows, similar to roaches. The Mastotermes darwiniensis termite species fascinates researchers as its fossilized remains have been found all over the world, suggesting that this species used to be globally distributed. Today, the species is only found in one small region of the world.


Do you think that competition with new emerging termite species erased the Mastotermes darwiniensis species from most areas of the world during the course of evolution?


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