Journal of Ethology

, Volume 31, Issue 2, pp 123-128

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Preadaptation for parthenogenetic colony foundation in subterranean termites Reticulitermes spp. (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae)

  • Kazutaka KawatsuAffiliated withLaboratory of Insect Ecology, Graduate School of Agriculture, Kyoto University Email author 
  • , Kenji MatsuuraAffiliated withLaboratory of Insect Ecology, Graduate School of Agriculture, Kyoto UniversityLaboratory of Insect Ecology, Graduate School of Environmental Science, Okayama University


Thelytokous (all-female producing) parthenogenesis, in some cases, involves reproductive advantages against obligate sexual reproduction. However, the completion of parthenogenesis takes multiple steps without the help of males, and thus preadaptation that meets those requirements will be an important factor for the evolution of parthenogenesis. The Japanese subterranean termite, Reticulitermes speratus, is known to have the ability of parthenogenetic colony foundation, where females that failed to mate with males found colonies cooperatively with partner females and reproduce by parthenogenesis. In this study, we compared the parthenogenetic ability and the colony initiation behavior among six Reticulitermes species in Japan. All species other than R. speratus were not able to reproduce parthenogenetically. Nevertheless, females of these species without the parthenogenetic ability performed homosexual female–female colony initiation and produced eggs without fertilization. In addition, in one species without parthenogenetic reproduction, R. kanmonensis, female–female pair initiated founding behavior as quickly as a heterosexual pair. These results suggest that female–female colony initiation and virgin egg-laying are predominant characters among the genus Reticulitermes and provide a preadaptive condition for parthenogenetic colony foundation in R. speratus.


Canalization Parthenogenesis Tandem running Female–female colony foundation Virgin egg-laying