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Termites as Social Cockroaches

In the mainstream of articles about pestering insects, termites have been long regarded as ants. Most of the time, people even mistake them for ants and are treated as such. Thus, writers put out comparisons to clearly denote the similarities and differences between these two insects. In scientific studies, though, scientists have been investigating the evolutionary connection of termites with other insects. Laboratory tests and behavioral observations have been conducted and these entomologists have eventually been debating about the possibility of termites being one of the different kinds of cockroaches instead of these insects being ants. They may look like ants but a lot of considerable factors point that they are indeed social cockroaches.

i. Apparent Similarities and Differences

In a quick glance, termites may appear to humans as white ants but with a closer look, they actually resemble the wood roaches Cryptocercus. Both of these insects also have specialized cases enclosing their eggs and perforations in the inner part of their heads. Consequently, there are no other apparent similarities that we could lay out aside from the mentioned physical characteristics of the compared insects. Historical investigations, however, show that termites and cockroaches came from the same species in prehistoric era and have just evolved into two different family distinctions. Their physiological structures have changed to fit in their ways of living. However, some roaches live so much alike with termites and thus look almost like them as well. Even by the naked eye, the wood roaches Cryptocerus and the primitive termites Mastotermidae have a lot of physical characteristics in common. Their similarities are more profound than that of the termites and ants.

The differences, on the other hand, are quite remarkable which makes it hard for non-researchers and home owners to believe the proposed fact that termites are related to cockroaches. As observed by people, cockroaches are omnivorous detritivores and they scout for food more of a scavenger's way. For this reason, they are considered to be as one of the most disgusts and filthy insects getting in contact with wastes and thriving in most dislikeable places. In doing so, they contract so many disease-causing pathogens and their bites, although not painful, are considered to be possibly fatal due to the harmful bacteria they transmit to people. Their mere presence is already enough to make a homeowner panic with the thought of sanitation glitch. While termites, destructive as they are, forage for food that are cellulose based and digest them with the aid of protists, symbiotic bacteria and fungi. They are generally considered as clean insects since they do not scavenge filthy wastes. Therefore, they do not carry harmful bacteria with them. Their rare bites are even close to being unnoticeable.

In behavioral studies, it is perceptible that cockroaches are solitary insects which live and reproduce generally on their own while termites are social ones having a distinct and highly organized social system composed of castes. Cockroaches forage for food and survive needless of staying in a group while termites have assigned tasks for every individual and all of them are dependent to each other in order to survive. The latter maintain and live strictly following the tasks assigned to them. They are even physiologically structured to conveniently and efficiently carry on their responsibilities. Moreover, cockroaches are not so diverse within their species except for their distinctions in age and sexual differences; termites have a lot of group variations and they are very keen to these productive and non-productive distinctions. In their physical structures, cockroaches have permanent two pairs of wings which have different sizes and their bodies are composed of three segments; termites have two equally sized pairs of wings which they shed off after mating. With these differences, it is surprising to a lot of people that termites have evolved from the same species as cockroaches did. This matter has become a debatable ground for a lot of researchers but DNA evidences have supported the claim of termite-cockroach connection. Thus, termites are cockroaches only living in a different mode of survival.

ii. Mastotermidae, termites that are exhibiting cockroach-like characteristics

Mastotermes darwiniensis or mastotermidae are primitive termites which are big and have the same characteristics as cockroaches do. These shared characteristics are not apparent in other termites. Here are the cockroach-like attributes that these termites have:

a. Feet with five tarsal segments; other termites only have four

b. Large size; other termites are relatively smaller

c. Eggs are laid in a oothecae which implies that their eggs are protected by specialized cases or capsules enclosed by membranes; other termites lay solitary eggs

d. Expanded pronotum which appear as shield in the first thoracic segment making it bigger than the usual size; other termites have smaller first thoracic segment

e. Hinds wings with expanded anal fans; other termites do not have this physiological structure

f. Ovipositor present; this tubular structure is absent in other termites

g. Their bodies carry endosymbiotic bacterium called Blattabacterium which is also present in cockroaches; other termites do not have bacteria in their bodies but they are aided in digestion by fungi

iii. Cryptocercus, cockroaches that are exhibiting termite-like characteristics

Although there are scientific arguments about the connection of termites to cockroaches, researchers have enlisted nine species of Cryptocercus punctulatus which have the same characteristics with termites on the basis of morphology and social behaviors. Here are their shared characteristics which are not perceptible in any other species of cockroaches:

a. Provide parental care for nymphs

b. Exhibit social behavior

c. Nymphs fed by the anal secretions of the adults

d. Live and nest exclusively in dead woods

e. Eat and digest woods by the help of endosymbiotic bacteria and protists in their bodies

f. Endosymbiotic bacteria and protists are passed on to their nymphs by anal secretions

g. Harbor several genera of endosymbiotic bacteria and protists that are not present in other cockroaches and termites but are necessary in their survival

h. Live long and pair monogamously, which is not apparent to other cockroaches since they live a very short life span and they mate promiscuously

i. Nymphs are exhibiting a striking termite-like appearance

As always, written by Michael Rozatoru :)
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