Two of the world's most invasive and destructive species of termites are finding romance in our backyards, creating "superswarms" of hybrid colonies that could potentially spread outside of South Florida.
A recent study led by entomologists from the University of Florida and published in the research journal PLOS ONE found that the Asian and Formosan subterranean termite species are meeting and mating in South Florida.
The species have each evolved separately for thousands of years.
Researchers previously believed the two termite species had distinct swarming seasons that barred them from interacting.
However, new research suggests that not only do their mating seasons interlap; the Asian termites seem to actually prefer mating with Formosan females rather than their own.
“This is worrisome, as the combination of genes between the two species results in highly vigorous hybridized colonies that can develop twice as fast as the two parental species,” said Thomas Chouvenc, an assistant researcher at UF.
Hybrid colonies can produce large numbers of fertile alates. The population has the potential to grow so large and invasive that it could eventually make its way out of South Florida.
Both species have already spread to many areas of the world.
Homeowners can take some steps to protect their homes. It's advisable to use baits to eliminate colonies of termites, or apply liquid insecticides in soil beneath and surrounding homes to try and prevent the termites from coming inside.
However, researchers say we've likely only seen the tip of the iceberg.
The two species are blamed for much of the $40 billion in economic loss caused every year by termites.