The first drywood termite known to use snapping stick-like mandibles to defend its colony

October 2, 2018, Pensoft Publishers
Soldier (holotype) of the newly discovered species and genus Roisinitermes ebogoensis (dorsal view). Credit: Rudolf Scheffrahn

Tasked to defend the colony from attackers, the specialised soldier caste in some termite species has evolved various impressive mechanisms, including plug-like heads—meant to block intruding ants trying to invade their lairs, and mouthparts designed to bite and pierce.

Still, there are even more spectacular soldiers, such as a recently discovered drywood termite species, whose unique long and slender, stick-like snapping mandibles produce one of the highest acceleration speeds measured in a living organism. Rather than bite, these peculiar 'jaws' deliver powerful strikes at enemies bold enough to stand in the way of the soldier termite and its .

The scientists describe the new termite's specialty in detail:

"Roisinitermes employs a unique strategy of snapping, achieved by long and slender mandibles pressed against each other in a defensive encounter. When this potential energy is released, the left mandible springs over the right and the resultant snap is forced onto the opponent if it is in the path of the strike."

Discovered in Cameroon, this striking species is the first drywood termite found to rely on snapping mandibles as a defense strategy. Given that until now there had been a single subfamily (Termitinae) known to have developed such, the very existence of the new insect poses a whole new set of questions before scientists. Have snapping mandibles evolved independently in two evolutionary lineages? Or, is it that these groups share a distant kin relationship which has gone unnoticed for that long?

Soldier (holotype) of the newly discovered species and genus Roisinitermes ebogoensis (lateral view). Credit: Rudolf Scheffrahn

The new drywood termite, which is also assigned to a new genus, is named Roisinitermes ebogoensis, and is described in the open access journal ZooKeys by an international team of researchers, led by Dr. Rudolf Scheffrahn of the Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences at University of Florida, Davie, USA. Although this particular species is not thought to be a pest, some drywood termites cause serious damage to wooden structures around the world.

Both colonies studied by the scientists were found near the Ebogo II village, which also stands behind the name of the . The first unusual colony to draw the attention of the scientists was collected from a forest on an island in the Nyong River, where it lived in a thin (3 cm) and long (over 3 m) broad-leaf tree branch suspended from a canopy. The second one—in a 15-mm thick dead liana branch hanging from a tree in a nearly pristine rainforest.

The team expects that future research will shed more light on the origins and evolution of the newly discovered termite.

Explore further: Some female termites can reproduce without males

More information: Rudolf H. Scheffrahn et al, Roisinitermes ebogoensis gen. & sp. n., an outstanding drywood termite with snapping soldiers from Cameroon (Isoptera, Kalotermitidae), ZooKeys (2018). DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.787.28195

Related Stories

Some female termites can reproduce without males

September 24, 2018

Populations of the termite species Glyptotermes nakajimai can form successful, reproducing colonies in absence of males, according to a study published in the open access journal BMC Biology.

Termites' unique gut 'factory' key to global domination

February 8, 2018

Termites have achieved ecological dominance and now some of the ingredients for their success have been determined to lie in their unique gut microbiome 'factories' - which enable the creatures to eat wood, soil and other ...

Recommended for you

Overspending on defense arsenal bankrupts a plant's economy

October 22, 2018

Defend or grow? Can plants do both at the same time? Michigan State University scientists might be inching closer to answering these questions. The answers matter. They could someday help us understand natural ecosystems ...

Cellular trash cans reveal the roles of proteins in disease

October 22, 2018

If we really want to know how our body's cells work—or don't work, in the case of disease—we might need to look beyond their genes and even beyond the proteins they are made of. We may need to start going through the ...

Cells that change jobs to fight diabetes

October 22, 2018

Diabetes is characterized by persistent high blood sugar levels that occur when certain cells in the pancreas—the insulin-producing β cells—are destroyed or are no longer able to secrete insulin. Researchers at the University ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.