Florida is already home to dozens of invasive species that have been damaging our environment. But things are about to get really insane now because these termite species have decided to join forces and are making baby "super termites."
The scientists, who published their findings in PLoS One, say that this new hybrid super termite could cause a serious threat to South Florida, in particular.
The two termite species, known as the Asian and Formosan termites, are responsible for about $40 billion in economic loss in Florida every year. And neither are native to the state.
And now that the two are meeting, the scientists say they're not only mating, but that Asian termite males seem to prefer the Formosan females over their own kind. The new colonies being made from this unholy union could, in theory, reproduce at a faster clip. The good news is that scientists aren't sure if the super termite hybrid can themselves reproduce, but it's still too early to tell.
Still, scientists are concerned. The coming together of these destructive termite species at the same time is enough of an issue. But now, with the super termites, we could very well be seeing "dramatically increased damage to structures in the near future," according to the study.
"Because a termite colony can live up to 20 years with millions of individuals, the damaging potential of a hybrid colony remains a serious threat to homeowners even if the hybrid colony does not produce fertile winged termites,” study author Nan-Yao Su said in a statement.
In the study itself, Su puts it this way: “a kick from a mule is as good as a kick from a donkey.”
The scientists predict that the hybrid termites will more destructive than their parents over the sheer number that have been produced thus far.
"These are the hybrids. So when we compare the number of individuals from hybrids to the parental species, they tend to be between 20 percent and actually 200 percent higher," explained researcher and entomologist Thomas Chouvenc to WLRN. "So, it's almost double the number of termites compared to the parental species."
So how did this happen? Scientists say it's climate change (sorry, Rick Scott).
According to their findings, it seems that the unusually warm winters of 2013 and 2014 caused an overlap of the swarming seasons for the Asian and Formosan termites. This leads one to conclude that, if things don't change environmentally, this inbreeding could become the norm for years to come.
“Right now, we barely see the tip of the iceberg,” Su said. “But we know it’s a big one."