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Coneheads, egg stacks and anteater attacks: The reign of a termite queen - Barbara L. Thorne

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A single determined termite braves countless threats to participate in the only flight of her lifetime. She evades the onslaught of predators as she lands, flips off her wings, secretes pheromones, and attracts a mate. But she's not alone. Unlike most termite species, conehead termite colonies can have multiple queens and kings. Barbara L. Thorne details the reign and duties of termite royalty.

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Meet The Creators

  • Educator Barbara L. Thorne
  • Director Thomas Johnson Volda
  • Narrator Alexandra Panzer
  • Storyboard Artist Thomas Johnson Volda
  • Animator Thomas Johnson Volda, Ivana Bošnjak
  • Art Director Thomas Johnson Volda
  • Composer Cem Misirlioglu, Jared Samuel
  • Sound Designer Cem Misirlioglu
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Director Alex Rosenthal
  • Producer Anna Bechtol
  • Associate Producer Abdallah Ewis
  • Editorial Producer Cella Wright
  • Script Editor Alex Gendler
Additional Resources for you to Explore
For an inspiring discussion about the importance, joys, and adventures of a passion for discovering nature and science, and considering science as a career, watch the TED talk by Professor E.O. Wilson: Advice to Young Scientists (14:57)

A bit more about conehead termites… 

The same exceptional suite of life history traits that make conehead termites so numerous in their native range also make them capable colonists able to ‘hitch hike’ in transported materials to establish and disperse in new locations. Once established in a new human-occupied habitat as an invasive species, conehead termites become pests. Termites can be destructive consumers of human property. For example, they eagerly eat wood in structures. (Just think: humans build out of termite food!) Termites also eat fruit tree groves and other crops such as sugar cane, and they infest nature and can significantly alter areas such as parks.

Although conehead termites are extraordinarily flexible in adapting to and exploiting a wide variety of habitats, they are also more vulnerable to eradication compared to many invasive species. To avoid eradication, there must be aggressive detection and treatment initiatives launched quickly upon first discovery of a new population. Conehead termites are a tractable target for eradication because (1) their tunnels and nests are conspicuous, enabling visual detection and precise application of interventions and (2) they fly only once per year so are not constantly moving far from where tunnels and nests are located.

Invasive conehead termites were first discovered in Broward County, Florida in 2001, remaining the only known occurrence of this species in the United States. One colony of coneheads likely arrived in wooden packing material on a boat that had traveled through the termite’s native range, the Caribbean and Central and South America, and docked at a marina near Ft. Lauderdale.

This publication describes Florida’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Invasive Conehead Termite Integrated Pest Management Eradication program, including background on conehead termite biology, transport, and potential destructive consequences if they become permanently established as exotic pests.

This paper presents genetic evidence documenting that both established populations of conehead termites in south Florida derived from the same single imported ‘ancestor’ colony.

This article, by John Roche, is a summary of the genetic research paper, offering an excellent summary of the results and their implications. 

More materials here about Florida’s Invasive Conehead Termite Eradication Program

Check out these photos and videos of conehead termites

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About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Barbara L. Thorne
  • Director Thomas Johnson Volda
  • Narrator Alexandra Panzer
  • Storyboard Artist Thomas Johnson Volda
  • Animator Thomas Johnson Volda, Ivana Bošnjak
  • Art Director Thomas Johnson Volda
  • Composer Cem Misirlioglu, Jared Samuel
  • Sound Designer Cem Misirlioglu
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Director Alex Rosenthal
  • Producer Anna Bechtol
  • Associate Producer Abdallah Ewis
  • Editorial Producer Cella Wright
  • Script Editor Alex Gendler

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