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Queens belonging to certain termite species are among the very few organisms that can alternate between sexual and asexual reproduction. Sexual reproduction is often viewed as being more evolutionarily advantageous than asexual reproduction, as sexual reproduction promotes genetic variation within a population. But, asexual reproduction can be beneficial in the sense that offspring receive more genetic input from their parent, and therefore, do not differ much in behavior and appearance. For example, genetic variation is good, but it also increases the chances that offspring may inherit undesirable traits. However, with asexual reproduction, a parent knows exactly what type of offspring she will have.

Asexual reproduction is advantageous to termite queens because this form of reproduction does not see competition among secondary queens that are produced sexually. Asexual reproduction also promotes consistent colony reproduction rates and consistent pheromone signalling to workers and soldiers, as replacement queens are genetically identical to existing queens. Asexual reproduction allows queens to directly confer their fitness to genetically identical offspring that will become future queens, and this consistency is essential in order for a colony to develop properly. Asexual reproduction is rarely advantageous, but a genetically identical succession of queens promotes colony survival over numerous generations.

However, asexual reproduction is disadvantageous for producing offspring that become regular colony members, like workers and soldiers. This is because a lack of genetic diversity among colony members makes the entire colony vulnerable to environmental stressors. Queens from most termite species reproduce sexually, but some species, including a few in the US, can have their cake and eat it too by alternating between sexual and asexual reproduction. For queens belonging to the following species: Reticulitermes speratus, Reticulitermes virginicus, Reticulitermes lucifugus, Embiratermes neotenicus and Cavitermes tuberosus both asexual and sexual reproduction are practiced. When queens from these species need to reproduce secondary queens, they resort to asexual reproduction; and when it comes to producing regular colony members, they resort to sexual reproduction with a king termite.

Do you think that other queen insects from different insect groups have the ability to alternate between asexual and sexaul reproduction?