Recent research has determined that termites may have evolved from cockroaches over 170 million years ago, in Africa or Asia.
Termites acquired the ability to digest cellulose, the main compound in plant cell walls (and wood), and the most abundant organic molecule on Earth.
This ability helped them become one of the most largest growing insect groups. The question is when and where did this evolutionary process begin.
Professor Theodore Evans and his team of scientists in the biological sciences department at National University of Singapore have used sequences of mitochondrial genomes, from 48 termite species from all termite families and subfamilies from around the world and to try to determine the timing and locations of this termite evolution.
The team created the the best evolutionary tree for termites to date, showing that termites split from cockroaches about 170 million years ago in the mid-Jurassic period. That’s when Pangea, the ancient single continent, was in the process of breaking up.
These studies have suggested that termites are 35 million years older than the oldest known fossils.
The Termitidae, according to these scientists, evolved about 54 million years ago, most likely in Africa when it was an island (possibly in Southeast Asia).
As most subfamilies in the Termitidae have been distributed across the tropics, termites are likely to have dispersed over oceans in floating logs.
It is likely most primitive species survived in isolation—such as in Australia for Mastotermes darwiniensis, (Common names giant northern termite and Darwin termite, is a termite species found only in northern Australia. It is a very peculiar insect, the most primitive termite alive. Wikipedia), the most primitive living species—far from those in Africa and Southeast Asia.
The findings can be found in Molecular Biology and Evolution.
Source: National University of Singapore
Entomologist Paul Eggleton, at the Natural History Museum in London, conducted a genetic analyses, studying 107 different species of termites, cockroaches and mantises from across the globe, and have conclude termites are indeed a family of cockroaches, findings detailed online April 5 in the journal Biology Letters.
According to Mariners Pest Control, headquartered in Irvine, California, Termites Are Actually Social Cockroaches. They are related as confirmed in the above article. Just their features alone show that they share specialized cases that enclose their eggs and perforations in the internal parts of their heads.