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Isoptera consists of over 2600 species (mostly tropical). Termites are the oldest social insect group with complex societies dating back at least to the early Cretaceous (140 Mya). Only 12 species occur in Europe. Recent studies have shown that Isoptera are basically social cockroaches forming a monophyletic clade within the Blattodea, most likely the sister group of the Cryptocercidae (woodroaches) (Inward et al. 2007). Termites are the only hemimetabolous insects that exhibit true social behavior. They build large nests housing an entire colony. These colonies contain adult reproductives (one queen and one king) plus hundreds or thousands of immatures that serve as workers and soldiers. Termites are important decomposer animals in lowland tropical ecosystems. They mostly feed on dead plant material and are able to digest cellulose with the help of symbiotic gut symbionts.

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© Jean-Yves Rasplus & Alain Roques

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