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The Dream of an All-Female Society Has Come True — for These Termites

Photo: chaiyon021/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Imagine there are no men. It’s easy, if you try. Imagine no Glenn or Ben. Among us, only, uh, pie. Ah, yes. Whether or not that is technically a good “no-men” parody of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” you can decide for yourself. But I am here to inform you that such a world exists, and it exists in the fascinating, and also a little gross and scary — no offense — world of termites.

Men: They are awful in ways beyond imagination. As soon as you think you’ve reached the basement of their horrific inhumanity they surprise you with a lower level. They are, at large, monsters, and it is impossible not to seethe with rage at the thought of— oh, excuse me. Let’s talk about the termite discovery.

Yes, in a study published this week in BMC Biology, which we came across via the New York Times, scientists report that termites have figured out a way to deal with this, the problem of men. From coastal sites in southern Japan, researchers collected more than 4,200 Glyptotermes nakajimai termites and did not find a single male among them. Amazing.

Toshihisa Yashiro, lead author of the report, told the Times it was formerly believed that both males and females had necessary roles in termite societies. From the Times:

All-female lineages have previously been documented in a few ant and honey bee species, but their colonies are already dominated by queens and female workers.

Termites, in contrast, are known for having colonies in which males and females both participate in social activities. Dr. Yashiro’s research is the first, in other words, to demonstrate that males can be discarded from advanced societies in which they once played an active role.

Dr. Yashiro has a few theories about how this came to be. First, that because Glyptotermes nakajimai sometimes produce offspring from unfertilized eggs, they were maybe “pre-adapted,” as he told the Times, to tell all of the male termites to go to hell. An additional possibility is that they might not need the genetic variation sexual reproduction provides to fight off parasites and pathogens. And also this:

Crucial to this transition may have been a willingness, by termite queens, to cooperate when establishing colonies. In most asexual colonies the researchers studied, multiple queens, as many as 25, were found.

Hmm. I think we can do it.

Scientists Discover All-Female Termite Colony