Morphologically specialized termite castes and advanced sociality in the early cretaceous

Michael S. Engel, Phillip Barden, Mark L. Riccio, David A. Grimaldi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

68 Scopus citations


A hallmark of animals that are eusocial, or those with advanced sociality, is reproductive specialization into worker and queen castes [1-3]. In the most derived societies, these divisions are essentially fixed and in some arthropods, include further specialization - a tripartite system with a soldier caste that defends the colony [1]. Eusociality has originated numerous times among insects but is believed to have appeared first in the termites (Isoptera), in the Early Cretaceous [4]. However, all termites known from the Cretaceous have, until now, only been winged reproductives (alates and dealates); the earliest soldiers and definitive workers were known from just the Miocene (ca. 17-20 million years ago [mya]) [4]. Here, we report six termite species preserved in Early Cretaceous (ca. 100 mya) amber from Myanmar, one described as Krishnatermes yoddha gen. Et sp. nov., comprising the worker/pseudergate, winged reproductive, and soldier, and a second species, Gigantotermes rex gen. Et sp. nov., based on one of the largest soldier termites yet known. Phylogenetic analysis indicates that Krishnatermes are in the basal "Meiatermes-grade" of Cretaceous termites. Workers/pseudergates of another four species are briefly described, but not named. One of these workers/pseudergates reveals that ants - the most serious enemies of modern termites - lived in close proximity to termites in the Burmese paleofauna. These discoveries demonstrate the Mesozoic antiquity of specialized termite caste systems and corroborate that among all social species, termites probably had the original societies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)522-530
Number of pages9
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Feb 22 2016
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


Dive into the research topics of 'Morphologically specialized termite castes and advanced sociality in the early cretaceous'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this