Living With Symbionts

Termite in Amber

Termite in Amber
Photo: Oregon State University

The interactions between termites and micro-organsims in the gut is well documented. The termite gut contains dozens of bacteria, flagellates and other microbes. These microbes deliver digestive enzymes vitamins and other nutrients to the termites. The termites chew and grind the wood into a liquid mash that the gut symbionts can use as food. The termites and symbionts together achieve what neither could achieve alone; the efficient digestion of wood.

How long ago did the association between termites and gut symbionts form? A fossil dated between 97 and 110 million years ago provides clear evidence of flagellates associated with the termite gut from the early Cretaceous. The termite, Kalotermes burmensis, had suffered damage to its abdomen, opening its gut when it became embedded in amber. The damage exposed the gut and preserved the flagellates in a manner that they are visible 100 million years later. The fossil was investigated by George Poinar* who was able to observe and identify 10 new fossil species of flagellates within the termite gut.

*George O Poinar. Description of an early Cretaceous termite and its associated intestinal protozoa, with comments on their co-evolution. Parasites & Vectors 2009, 2:12
doi:10.1186/1756-3305-2-12

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is an Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
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1 Response to Living With Symbionts

  1. They don’t walk or do any kind of physical activity like watering the plants and cutting the grass. Curing the actual infection rather than just the symptoms, home treatments are 10 times more effective than over the counter pills.

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