Termite super colonies in Toronto

A termite colony is created by a mating pair of alate termites who establish a nuptial chamber and begin to produce eggs. Like ants, and some bees and wasps, termites live in well-integrated societies where individuals are dependent on each other for survival. They each perform different tasks that, collectively, meet the needs of the colony. Even the task of reproduction is divided up among them. Most individuals within a termite colony are effectively sterile, and they simply help their reproductive relatives rear offspring. On matters of survival and reproduction, the colony collective is much stronger and more effective than the individual.

Because termites are social insects they run on cues from their environment and social surroundings. Conventional thinking runs that, when Termite A bumps into Termite B, Termite A’s response might be: “If I recognize Termite B is a colony mate, I’ll cooperate with him. If he’s not a colony mate, I’ll defend against him!” In the latter case, may the best termites win in these competitive encounters.

Hence termites from the same kin cooperate with each other and termites that are non-kin are typically antagonistic toward each other. As such, non-kin colonies are somewhat competitive with each other and keep each other’s colonies in check.

The University of Western Ontario has been doing a study over the last few years and their findings seem to indicate that the termites in southern Ontario, particularly Toronto do not have any kin recognition. Therefore if you take a number of termites from the east end of Toronto and introduce them to active termites in the west end of Toronto, they do not show any competition or territoriality. They perceive each other as colony mates, or kin, even though in any practical sense, they aren’t. This lack of recognition among the introduced termites of Toronto means they don’t form colonies with defined boundaries. Instead they form indiscriminate supercolonies that amass and transform underground to spread across large areas. This makes them especially difficult to localize and treat, and evermore resilient because they can potentially join-up with neighboring populations into an ever bigger menace. Are the Eastern subterranean termites of Toronto the biggest termite “colony” in the world? Maybe not, because similar phenomena have been reported in other cities in which the species has invaded, for example, Paris, France.

Should Toronto have one giant supercolony of termites, then it’s a good thing we pushed the PMRA (Pest Management Regulatory Agency) to approve Altriset, Canadas’ newest termiticide, in April 2014. Prior to this, all treating was done with a termiticide that would drive the termites away from one house, presumably, only to invade a nearby, untreated, house. With Altriset, the termites take the active ingredient back to the colony and pass it along to the other termites. If the termites in Toronto have no kin recognition, then, like a cold in a kindergarten class, the termites will spread the Altriset more readily throughout Toronto and the GTA.

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