Kaz's focal taxon

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Contents

Termites

General

Termites are an incredibly interesting group of organisms for a number of reasons. They may appear similar to ants at first glance, but many important features distinguish them easily. Like ants, bees, and wasps, these insects build nests housing many individuals in eusocial communities, but termites are distinct because of the large degree of polymorphism within each colony.

Each nest is controlled (primarily via pheromonal signals probably spread through shared feeding) by a set of reproducing individuals, a large queen which produces larvae almost constantly, and a smaller king who tends to the queen. Each larvae develops into one of three castes, workers, soldiers, or the reproductive alates; each of these castes has a distinct morphology. The alates are either male or female, and have long bodies and four easily detached wings. All castes are diploid; they receive half of their genes from a queen, and half from a king. This caste periodically disperses from the nest, frequently after rain, when they may separate from their original colony to form a new nest as a king/queen pair. The soldier and worker castes are not reproductive (they are all female, don't produce viable young, and are inhibited from reproducing by pheromones from the king and queen), but carry out all of the tasks associated with the nest: harvesting food, nursing larvae, defense, mound construction, etc. Workers are usually plain-looking, with small mandibles for carrying objects, and bulbous thorax/abdomen areas, while soldiers often have highly developed defense mechanisms such as large, strong pincer-like mandibles, or prominent nozzles which protrude from above the mandibles, and can spray toxic compounds on enemies or intruders.

Collection and Analysis

Data were collected from 10 different species along trails in Maliau Basin, Sabah, Malaysia. Links in the following table lead to the observations, notes, and determinations about these 10 morphotype groups (I call them "morphotype groups" because many observations included both soldier and worker morphs):

Individual Determined by Date Taxon Genus Species Morphotype
Indiv149 Kaz 10 July 2010 Termite Termidae Termite Morphotype C
Indiv188 Kaz 10 July 2010 Termite Termidae Termite Morphotype D
Indiv192 Kaz 10 July 2010 Termite Termidae Termite Morphotype F
Indiv194 Kaz 10 July 2010 Termite Termidae Termite Morphotype B
Indiv195 Kaz 10 July 2010 Termite Termidae Termite Morphotype A
Indiv196 Kaz 10 July 2010 Termite Termidae Termite Morphotype E
Indiv197 Kaz 10 July 2010 Termite Termidae Termite Morphotype G
Indiv199 Kaz 10 July 2010 Termite Termidae Termite Morphotype J
Indiv200 Kaz 10 July 2010 Termite Termidae Termite Morphotype I
Indiv201 Kaz 10 July 2010 Termite Termidae Termite Morphotype H

A phylogenetic tree was formed using the programs Mesquite, Phylip, and Treeview. in order to create the following character matrix with 7 characters:

File:CharMatrix.jpg

Each species was analyzed using characters pertaining to the soldiers and workers only. The character matrix was used to create the following most parsimonious tree:

Discussion

A tree tracing the character of segmented or smooth bodies
A tree tracing the character of body color
A tree tracing the character of soldier defensive features

The single most parsimonious tree created using my 7 characters suggests that the 3 morphotype groups with white/transparent colorationform a distinct outgroup, and that all the black termites are more closely related to each-other than to the light-colored insects. All the white termites had smooth bodies, so this trend can be seen in the character traces for both body color and segmented/smooth abdomens (thumbnails to the right). In the third character trace shown, the morphotype group labeled "Termite F" is reported to have "strange" soldier mouth parts, futher research indicates that the strange structure see on the soldiers' head were modified mandibles. Considering this, it is also true that all the white termites had soldiers with large pincers, and all the black termites had nozzles. The coincidence of these three characters is probably part of why termites A, D, F, are shown to form an outgroup.