Asexual queen succession in the subterranean termite Reticulitermes virginicus. Academic Article uri icon


  • Termite colonies are founded by a pair of primary reproductives. In many species, including subterranean termites (family Rhinotermitidae), the primary king and queen can be succeeded by neotenic reproductives that are produced from workers or nymphs within the colony. It is generally believed that these neotenics inbreed within the colony, sometimes for many generations. Here, we show that primary queens of the North American subterranean termite, Reticulitermes virginicus, are replaced by numerous parthenogenetically produced female neotenics. We collected functional female neotenics from five colonies of R. virginicus in North Carolina and Texas, USA. Genetic analysis at eight microsatellite loci showed that 91-100% of the neotenics present within a colony were homozygous at all loci, indicating that they were produced through automictic parthenogenesis with terminal fusion. In contrast, workers, soldiers and alates were almost exclusively sexually produced by mating between the female neotenics and a single king. This is the second termite species shown to undergo asexual queen succession, a system first described in the Japanese species, Reticulitermes speratus. Thus, the conditional use of sexual and asexual reproduction to produce members of different castes may be widespread within Reticulitermes and possibly other subterranean termites.

published proceedings

  • Proc Biol Sci

altmetric score

  • 1

author list (cited authors)

  • Vargo, E. L., Labadie, P. E., & Matsuura, K.

citation count

  • 46

complete list of authors

  • Vargo, Edward L||Labadie, Paul E||Matsuura, Kenji

publication date

  • February 2012