Death of an order: a comprehensive molecular phylogenetic study confirms that termites are eusocial cockroaches

Biol Lett. 2007 Jun 22;3(3):331-5. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2007.0102.


Termites are instantly recognizable mound-builders and house-eaters: their complex social lifestyles have made them incredibly successful throughout the tropics. Although known as 'white ants', they are not ants and their relationships with other insects remain unclear. Our molecular phylogenetic analyses, the most comprehensive yet attempted, show that termites are social cockroaches, no longer meriting being classified as a separate order (Isoptera) from the cockroaches (Blattodea). Instead, we propose that they should be treated as a family (Termitidae) of cockroaches. It is surprising to find that a group of wood-feeding cockroaches has evolved full sociality, as other ecologically dominant fully social insects (e.g. ants, social bees and social wasps) have evolved from solitary predatory wasps.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Base Sequence
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Cockroaches / classification*
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics
  • DNA, Ribosomal / genetics
  • Histones / genetics
  • Isoptera / classification*
  • Isoptera / genetics*
  • Models, Genetic
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Phylogeny*
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Social Behavior*
  • Species Specificity


  • DNA, Mitochondrial
  • DNA, Ribosomal
  • Histones