The Globetrotters

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Termites are real globetrotters and that is not because of their ability to fly, Science Alert reported.

In a new study, scientists discovered that species in the drywood termite family have crossed the world’s oceans more than 40 times in the last 50 million years.

Drywood termites – known as Kalotermitidae – make their homes inside pieces of wood and live in smaller colonies compared to their other relatives. They are capable of flight but can’t pull off long distances. Instead, they tend to float because of their wooden homes.

Case in point: Researchers said the insects were able to recolonize the island of Krakatau in Indonesia within 100 years following a devastating volcanic eruption in 1883.

For their paper, the team thoroughly analyzed the genetics of around 120 species of drywood termites collected over the past three decades. They then discovered that their oldest common ancestor lived 84 million years ago and the early splits in the family tree began on land.

But most of the 40 or so splits occurred less than 50 million years ago, which shows that the arthropods were traveling across the sea. This spread was further amplified thanks to human travel.

The study also shows that aside from being wanderers and stowaways, older lineages of Kalotermitidae behaved far differently than today’s modern insects when it came to choosing their homes and living in colonies.

The authors noted that the findings only show “how little we know about termites, the diversity of their lifestyles, and the scale of their social lives.”

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