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Understanding the Termite Reproductives


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#1 Offline CampoKing - Posted December 5 2018 - 11:51 AM

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Hi there,

 

So I'm curious about termites but I come from a purely ant background.  It's like trying to learn a new language when you know a related one: some things make sense, but some others really really don't.

 

In ants, generally speaking, there's one queen.  The "supplemental reproductives" of termites is virtually unheard of in Hymenoptera, as they're not very similar in function to gamergates or pleometrosis in founding queens.  So I'm at a loss as to their relationship to the "primary" king and queen.

 

In short, my question is, can a termite colony consisting of only neotenic reproductives function the same as a colony with primary reproductives?  Can such a colony still reach sexual maturity and produce alates?  Or is it limited in some way, limping along without true primaries?

 

Thanks everyone!


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#2 Offline Nare - Posted December 5 2018 - 2:35 PM

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In short, my question is, can a termite colony consisting of only neotenic reproductives function the same as a colony with primary reproductives?  Can such a colony still reach sexual maturity and produce alates?  Or is it limited in some way, limping along without true primaries?

Depending on species, a termite colony will almost always end up consisting of solely "secondary" reproductives - descended from the nymphal line. This is because a termite colony does not die out when the founding pair, the primary reproductives, die - when, in many termite species, workers are separated from primary reproductives (and thus the pheromones they give off), several workers will begin molting towards a reproductive stage. Colonies can work fine with "secondaries", and they will produce alates nonetheless.

 

Infact, because I live in an area where finding an actual flight of termites is near to impossible, I've grabbed a bunch of workers and whatnot from a colony I found, and hope to start my own colonies with those. It should be noted that, in many species of Macrotermes I think, it's very rare for both reproductives to make it through the founding stage, or to remain around for a while - I think only about 40% of colonies retain both.

 

So to sum it up, for those termites that can produce secondary reproductives, or even tertiary reproductives (though this is uncommon), losing the primary pair is not an issue. The colony will function fine on neotonics.

 

The only thing I might add to this is that, though "secondaries", descended from the reproductive nymph line (that eventually leads to primaries), have almost the same egg laying capacity (in Reticulitermes at least), it is common to have multiple secondaries, meaning egg production does not struggle in the slightest. Some colonies may even have primaries and secondaries, though I'm unsure which species does this.


I keep termites - check them out! I've also made a guide...


#3 Offline LC3 - Posted December 8 2018 - 7:22 PM

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Short answer: Secondaries are just as capable as primaries, Long answer: Slightly more nuanced than the short answer.

 

Secondaries (neotenics) are just as fecund if not more than primary reproductives (imagoes). Secondary males are rather uncommon while secondary females are very common.

In the more primitive termite families (Kalotermitidae and Archotermopsidae specifically) behave a lot like ants, only tolerating one pair of neotenics (although multiple neotenics can be induced artifically), if one of the current reproductives die they are replaced with a neotenic. 

 

Higher up you go on the evolutionary ladder is when things get very weird. Some species still only tolerate one pair of reproductives, some species use alates as secondary reproductives, some just keep producing more neotenics without much regard to what happens to the primaries, in others the queen is replaced by her clones and certain species don't utilize secondary reproductives at all. Much like ants, reproductive strategy varies per population in a given species. 

 

So to answer your question, the species (or populations) that do produce secondaries have them as a basic component of their lifestyle and usually not emergency backup. The species that don't produce secondaries go down with the primaries or replace them with other imagoes.

72b2d2002768bfca395aa7fb0851f995.png

 

If you are wondering why secondary reproductives look the way they do, it's because unlike ants, termites do not undergo complete metamorphasis, as in egg -> larva -> pupae -> adult, they just keep growing into larger versions of themselves. All castes except for the alates are technically 'immatures', they posses nymph characteristics and not adult ones. The alates are the only 'adult' caste, this is probably the case since they need wings to disperse. This is also why the alates/primaries are referred to as imagoes.

 

Nymphs of Cryptocercus (wood cockroach), the closest living relative to the termites. 

Cryptocercus_punctulatus,_nymphs,_egg,I_

 

Adult:

Cockroaches_largest_and_smallest_Copyrig


Edited by LC3, December 8 2018 - 7:23 PM.

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Colonies

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#4 Offline CampoKing - Posted December 8 2018 - 7:41 PM

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It's like Nature took all the insect reproduction strategies from the palette and smeared them on the canvas like an angry five year old, and boom! she made termites o_o

 

2oitl3.jpg


Edited by CampoKing, December 8 2018 - 7:48 PM.

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#5 Offline Nare - Posted December 8 2018 - 7:46 PM

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It's like Nature took all the insect reproduction strategies from the palette and smeared them on the canvas like an angry five year old, and boom! she made termites o_o

Termites are plain complicated because they're the only eusocial creatures, (besides maybe some shrimp things, but I think those are pretty primative), where castes are present and reproduction relegated to certain individuals, that also molt. Molting makes them more flexible to pursue any path, and so all of these intercastes and half castes appear.


I keep termites - check them out! I've also made a guide...





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