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Termite eggs ward off sperm

Nature volume 515, page 468 (27 November 2014) | Download Citation


Image: Kenji Matsuura

Ageing termite queens produce new queens asexually by laying eggs without any openings that normally allow sperm to pass through.

In termite colonies, queens can reproduce both asexually to generate new queens and sexually to produce other colony members. Toshihisa Yashiro and Kenji Matsuura at Kyoto University in Japan analysed eggs collected from field colonies of the termite Reticulitermes speratus (pictured). They found that in the eggs that had no openings for sperm, the embryos developed without any genetic contribution from the male. Eggs from older queens tended to have few or no openings compared with eggs from younger queens.

This is a rare example of a female animal controlling the fertilization of her eggs even when males are present, the authors say.

Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA (2014)

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