Ten and a half year after a scientific paper reached this conclusion the U.S. scientific body that handles the naming of insect species has agreed that termites are a social sub-type of cockroach. As Science News explains:
The Entomological Society of America is updating its master list of insect names to reflect decades of genetic and other evidence that termites belong in the cockroach order, called Blattodea.
As of February 15, “it’s official that termites no longer have their own order,” says Mike Merchant of Texas A&M University in College Station, chair of the organization’s common names committee. Now all termites on the list are being recategorized.
The demotion brings to mind Pluto getting kicked off the roster of planets, says termite biologist Paul Eggleton of the Natural History Museum in London. He does not, however, expect a galactic outpouring of heartbreak and protest over the termite downgrade. Among specialists, discussions of termites as a form of roaches go back at least to 1934, when researchers reported that several groups of microbes that digest wood in termite guts live in some wood-eating cockroaches too.
Once biologists figured out how to use DNA to work out genealogical relationships, evidence began to grow that termites had evolved as a branch on the many-limbed family tree of cockroaches. In 2007, Eggleton and two museum colleagues used genetic evidence from an unusually broad sampling of species to publish a new tree of these insects (SN: 5/19/07, p. 318). Titled “Death of an order,” the study placed termites on the tree near a Cryptocercus cockroach.The paper that spurred this reassessment is:
D. Inward, G. Beccaloni and P. Eggleton. Death of an order: a comprehensive molecular phylogenetic study confirms that termites are eusocial cockroaches. 3 Biology Letters 331 (June 22, 2007) doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2007.0102.