Two particularly hungry, exotic termite species apparently have found love halfway around the world—and, as with so many other Florida hookups, the results are disturbing. Asian and Formosan subterranean termites are two of the most destructive termite species in the world, responsible for much of the estimated $40 billion in economic losses attributed to termites annually. Their habitat ranges overlap in lush South Florida, but experts believed the colonies didn't mingle because their above-ground mating swarms launched in different months. That is, until University of Florida researcher Thomas Chouvenc noticed something unusual about the termite swarms in his Fort Lauderdale neighborhood two years ago. The two species were flying around looking for mates at the same time.
Chouvenc is the lead author of a study in Plos One detailing observations of Asian and Formosan termite swarms. Researchers documented the two species swarming at the same time and in the same places; the same behavior was documented again last year, and Chouvenc said he's seeing it again this spring. "When we put them in vials and brought them back to the lab ... they started laying eggs and the eggs started growing." The resulting "hybrid" colony grew more vigorously than colonies produced by either species alone, researchers say; genetic analysis confirmed it was a hybrid species. The research is preliminary and leaves many questions unanswered, but the idea of a hybrid termite carrying the destructive capabilities of two invasive species worries experts. "They're two bad ones," says a USDA entomologist. "Let's keep our fingers crossed that they're not able [to reproduce]." (Read more termites stories.)