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Slimy but Satisfying: Termite Species “Ruled” by Genetically Immortal Queens

I think I'm a clone now.


Hang on, I’ll get to the story. Don’t be in such a RUSH.

If you’ve watched enough of Isabella Rossellini’s Green Porno, then you probably know that some eusocial animals (that is, animals who raise young in a hive structure with division of labor into reproductive and non-reproductive groups), like bees and ants, fertilize their young queens once with many mates, before they fly off to start their own hives. But the Reticulitermes speratus species of termite has a different way of getting down: genetically immortal queens who just clone themselves and to make their own successors.

And, yeah, okay, this was discovered in 2009, but it’s the first we’ve heard of it so we thought it might be the same for you. Researchers discovered that female termite queens can reproduce asexually through parthenogenesis, and it’s used as a method to avoid inbreeding. Take that, ancient Egyptians and Lannisters!

New R. speratus termite queens don’t come with a repository of sperm samples to create a genetically diverse new colony, and instead mate with a termite king repeatedly to populate a nest. If the queen were to die and be replaced by one of her daughters, the resulting offspring of the new king and queen would be inbred. To get around this, R. speratus queens produce eggs that lack the openings that would allow male termites to fertilize them.

With no other genetic information to grow on, the eggs hatch into genetically identical copies of the original queen. Since termite queens can live for decades, they usually only produce their clones once they’re getting older, leaving a replacement standing by without creating a rival.

Here’s where I might cap this whole thing off with another Star Craft reference, but I never actually finished Star Craft II. So I’ll just assume that after motorcycle rebel guy rescued Kerrigan from being Triumphant Queen of All the Totes Gross Bugs, her clone showed up and in the end the Zerg won anyway.

I’m assuming this is also what will happen at the end of Game of Thrones.

Previously in Gross Bugs

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Susana Polo thought she'd get her Creative Writing degree from Oberlin, work a crap job, and fake it until she made it into comics. Instead she stumbled into a great job: founding and running this very website (she's Editor at Large now, very fancy). She's spoken at events like Geek Girl Con, New York Comic Con, and Comic Book City Con, wants to get a Batwoman tattoo and write a graphic novel, and one of her canine teeth is in backwards.