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Feces in termites' nests block biological pest control

Built-in poop nourishes bacteria that protect notorious Formosan species

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4:45pm, September 19, 2013
termites

GROUP HEALTH PLAN  One Formosan termite may be little  and vulnerable but together the insects can draw on many protective powers, including fecal microbes built into their colony walls.

Mixing their own poop into nest walls gives Formosan termites a bacterial boost in fighting off human attempts to destroy them with insect plagues.

A bacterial strain found in the fecally-enhanced nest walls of pest termites Coptotermes formosanus helps protect them from a potentially deadly fungus, says entomologist Nan-Yao Su of the University of Florida in Fort Lauderdale. Such live-in boosters could help explain why efforts to control the termites with fungal diseases have been a failure, Su and his colleagues report September 18 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

“You can put the fungus on an insect in a lab dish and say, ‘Hah! We killed the termite,’” Su says. But for termites in their natural colonies, the soil-dwelling fungus Metarhizium anisopliae has failed to devastate.

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