Fossil evidence shows that the ancient world was home to numerous animal species that are now extinct. This is well known, but many people may not realize that finding fossils of extinct insects is not easy to do, as insects are often too small and soft-bodied to make imprints in sediment. Considering this, you can imagine how rare it is to locate fossils of tiny termites. Due to their rarity, researchers cannot help but to become fascinated upon locating fossil specimens of ancient and now extinct termite species, after all, fossils provide the only direct evidence of past life-forms and their habitats, and sometimes, their behaviors as well.
Fossil records of past termite species is spotty at best, much like fossil evidence of all other animal species. Some ancient termite species have been documented based on only one single fossil, or in many cases, fossils that only contain a fragment of a termite specimen. However, fragmentary termite fossils are usually sufficient for establishing the existence of past termite species that were previously unknown. For example, many termite fossils contain nothing more than a wing. This makes sense considering that most termite fossils are of termite alates. Termite alates are winged termites that possess reproductive abilities. Termite alates make up a majority of termite fossils because they are found in all different environments, as their dispersal flights keep them from being isolated within single locations.
Poor fossil documentation in the past has made it difficult to establish where particular termite species originated, as no termite fossils have been documented as originating from Africa, and very few have been determined as originating from Australia and South America. But as a result of technological advancements, researchers have now uncovered enough termite fossils to determine how particular species migrated around the world long ago. Based on fossil evidence, it is known that termites were abundant on earth back when all continents were connected as one big landmass more than 300,000 years ago.
Have you ever visited a fossil bed where termite fossils had been found?