Skip to main page content
Access keys NCBI Homepage MyNCBI Homepage Main Content Main Navigation
Comparative Study
, 3 (3), 331-5

Death of an Order: A Comprehensive Molecular Phylogenetic Study Confirms That Termites Are Eusocial Cockroaches

Comparative Study

Death of an Order: A Comprehensive Molecular Phylogenetic Study Confirms That Termites Are Eusocial Cockroaches

Daegan Inward et al. Biol Lett.


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.


Figure 1
Figure 1
Topology of Bayesian majority rules consensus tree of 2501 trees. Red branch indicates position of Cryptocercus, blue branches indicate termite lineage. Numbers under the branches indicate posterior probabilities (i.e. the proportion of the 2501 sampled trees that contain the node) for key nodes. Names of major clades (e.g. superfamilies) are provisional.
Figure 2
Figure 2
Simplified phylogenetic tree showing major evolutionary transitions within ancestral forms leading to the termites. 1, ootheca formed from secretions of the asymmetrical accessory glands; 2, ootheca formed internally in vestibulum, keel pointing upwards until deposited; 3, wood -feeding, unique hypermastigid and oxymonad gut flagellate assemblages, biparental care, proctodeal trophallaxis; and 4, male genitalia bilaterally symmetrical and much reduced, sperm immotile or weakly motile, true soldier caste, overlapping generations with reproductive division of labour (‘eusociality’).

Comment in

  • Save Isoptera: a comment on Inward et al.
    Lo N, Engel MS, Cameron S, Nalepa CA, Tokuda G, Grimaldi D, Kitade O, Krishna K, Klass KD, Maekawa K, Miura T, Thompson GJ. Lo N, et al. Biol Lett. 2007 Oct 22;3(5):562-3; discussion 564-5. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2007.0264. Biol Lett. 2007. PMID: 17698448 Free PMC article. No abstract available.

Similar articles

See all similar articles

Cited by 69 articles

See all "Cited by" articles

Publication types

LinkOut - more resources