Scientists are puzzled over male termites' penchant for pairing with other males when left without a female mate. Now, a recent study presents an explanation for the behavior: male termites live longer together than alone.
According to a report from EurekAlert, Japanese researchers from Kyoto University confirmed that male termites tend to pair up when they are unable to find a female mate. They also found that given an opportunity, the male pair will kill a female's spouse so one of them can take its place.
The explanation for homosexual pairing first eluded lead scientist Nobuaki Mizumoto and his team, who initially believed the male-male couplings were due to each misrecognized each other as female. However, upon further observation, the termites showed no signs of mistaking males as females.
"Japanese termites usually make nests in monogamous, heterosexual pairs," says Mizumoto. "In theory, misrecognizing a female for a male in a monogamous mating system should incur considerable costs for reproduction. There had to be some sort of benefit if this were a common behavior."
It turned out that the benefit was survival. Getting together was an evolutionary tactic as males cannot survive on their own.
"Male termites aren't able to survive on their own, but those that make nests with another male survived for much longer," Mizumoto explained in a statement in Eurekalert. "This was especially beneficial in situations when searching for females raises the risk of being preyed upon. It's clear that male-male pairing is a strategy for survival."
He added, "Pairing with another male isn't the best option, but it gives mateless termites a chance to survive until they find a female, if that happens at all."
The study, entitled Male same-sex pairing as an adaptive strategy for future reproduction in termites, was published in Animal Behaviour.
It comes a few months after another breakthrough in the study of termites was achieved: the successful sequencing and analyzation of the genome of one termite species, according to Arizona State University. The research marked the first time this was done.
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