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Researchers Perplexed After Finding A New Species Of Termite With Unprecedented Jaws That Snap Shut At Incredible Speeds


Researchers Perplexed After Finding A New Species Of Termite With Unprecedented Jaws That Snap Shut At Incredible Speeds

It is not often that a new termite species is discovered, especially one that possesses bizarre and never before seen features. To call the most recently discovered termite species “odd” would not be going far enough, as this previously unknown species possesses narrow snapping jaws that no other known termite species possesses. This new species, Roisinitermes ebogoensis, belongs to a genus of drywood termite, and its menacing jaws clearly indicate its place in the soldier caste. Soldiers of many different species are easy to discern as they have developed mechanisms that are useful for repelling enemy insects. For example, some termite soldiers have plug-shaped heads that effectively block tunnel entrances around their nests, preventing enemy invasions. Many soldiers also possess oversized jaws that contain sharp teeth. The jaws of soldier termites have evolved to do nothing more than attack enemies, as soldiers cannot even feed themselves on account of their huge jaws. This is why worker termites literally administer food to soldiers. What is perhaps most remarkable about the newly discovered species is the speed at which its jaws snap shut. In fact, this soldier termite’s jaws snap shut at the highest acceleration speeds measured in a living organism.

The jaws of this new termite species are not used for biting per se; instead, their jaws are used for striking enemies. During defensive encounters, these soldiers will hold their mandibles together tightly until the potential energy is released, the left mandible then springs over the right creating a snap that strikes any enemy insects that are in its close vicinity. As you can probably guess, it is unprecedented for a soldier termite to use its jaws in this particular manner.

This species was recently discovered in Cameroon, and with the exception of one extinct termite species, it is the only termite species to use snapping mandibles as a defensive tactic. This feature raises several questions. For example, did snapping mandibles evolve independently in two termite lineages? Or is the extinct species distantly related to the newly discovered species? This new species is not thought to be a pest, but researchers no almost nothing about the species, making further research a top priority for entomologists.

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