The Little Known Subterranean Termite That Secretes A Unique Ant-Killing Toxin

The Little Known Subterranean Termite That Secretes A Unique Ant-Killing Toxin

Many Americans are aware of the fact that eastern subterranean termites are the most destructive termites inhabiting North America. America also has its share of dampwood and drywood termite species, but these termite species do not cause nearly as much damage as the eastern subterranean termite species. Of course, the eastern subterranean termite is not the only highly destructive subterranean termite species in America. The invasive Formosan subterranean termite species has been devastating to structures located within the southeast US ever since the 1960’s, and likely before. However, most people are not aware that another interesting, but much less widespread subterranean termite species dwells within America. This termite species is commonly known as the Cuban subterranean termite, and its habitat is limited to the state of Florida. Unlike other subterranean termite species, the Cuban subterranean termite can secrete a chemical that is toxic to many insects, especially ants.

The Cuban subterranean termite belongs to the Prorhinotermes genus, which includes twenty termite species that are all native to east Asia. The Cuban subterranean termite’s habitat is limited to southeastern Florida, and they are often found near bodies of water. Despite having been found infesting structures in the past, these termites are not considered significant insect pests due to their small population size within the US. These termites are rarely found beyond seven miles from Florida’s southeastern coast.

The Cuban subterranean termite’s biology is not well understood, but researchers assume that they are similar to other species of subterranean termites. A few past studies concerning this termites biology have focused on the unique defensive chemical that is secreted from their fontanelles. Subterranean termites do not possess many defensive features that allow them to defeat their ant enemies during battle. However, the Cuban subterranean termite secretes a chemical that contains nitroolefins. Nitroolefins are toxic to ants and other termites. Researchers have not yet observed how Cuban subterranean termites fair against their ant predators during battle, but their ability to secrete toxic compounds is likely a major advantage.

Do you think that the small Cuban subterranean termite population in Florida would have died out had it not been for their ability to secrete chemicals that are deadly to their natural enemies?



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