Termite Guts Contain Microorganisms That Are Not Found In Any Other Animals
Although termites love to eat cellulose from wood, wood is not easily digestible to most animals, and it is lacking in necessary nutrients. Termites are unique creatures in that they can digest wood due to certain microorganisms contained within their guts. There is nothing new about the fact that termites possess certain types of gut bacteria that helps them digest wood. However, researchers have recently learned that these forms of gut bacteria are more unique than initially thought. The gut bacteria that are contained within termites are not found within the guts of any other animal species. It has long been known that young termite offspring acquire these necessary forms of digestive bacteria from their parents. The bacteria is acquired when young termites feed on the feces of their elders. Surprisingly, recent research has also revealed that this sharing of gut bacteria is not just passed down from parents to offspring, but this bacteria is passed from colony to colony as well. Even termite species that are distantly related can acquire each others gut bacteria. It turns out that eating feces for the valuable digestive bacterias that they contain is not just a family matter among termites; instead this process could be a species-wide matter.
Termites are nothing without their gut bacteria. Termites contain millions of different, but unique forms of gut bacteria. The gut bacteria contained within a termite body is so great, that the total molecular weight of this bacteria accounts for one third of a termite’s full body weight. According to researchers, a termite’s gut microbiome is among the most complex of any animal group. Their gut microbiome has evolved to the point where termites can now feed on the most diverse forms of plant matter. This gives termites ecological dominance in the tropical and subtropical regions where the greatest amount of termites species are found.
The researchers did not just examine the microbiomes of tropical termites; even termite pests common to North America were included in the study. Gut bacteria can be transferred from one species of termite to a completely different species. This likely occurs when two termite groups battle to the death. After a battle, the winning termite group will consume the bodies of the losers, which also means that they consume the loser’s gut bacteria. After termite gut bacteria underwent DNA analysis, it was compared to other forms of bacteria found in nature. It was found that termite gut bacteria was unique and highly specialized for cellulose digestion. However, researchers are still struggling to learn more about how termites make use of gut bacteria that is acquired from different termite species.
Do you think that eating raw termites could result in illness given their relatively unsanitary living conditions and tendency to consume fecal matter?