Why Do Termite Queens Live Ten Times Longer Than Their Offspring?
Most insects do not live long lives, but queens belonging to groups of social insects live significantly longer lives than their offspring. Queens belonging to wasp, bee and ant colonies all live for longer periods of time than other colony members. Of all the social insects that exist, termite colonies possess the most impressive queens. Termite queens amaze people on account of their large bodies and their incredibly long lifespans. For example, queens belonging to the Macrotermes natalensis species can grow up to a full six inches in length, which dwarfs their tiny offspring. Termite queens can also lay up to seven thousand eggs per day and they can live as long as fifty years. Researchers have long wondered how termite queens can live for unusually long amounts of time. Now recent research is showing that queen termites age more gracefully than other termites thanks to antioxidants.
Japanese researchers have recently discovered that termite queens possess a unique antioxidant system that enables them to live much longer than non-reproductive termites. For the experiment the researchers compared Japanese termite queens to workers. The researchers examined levels of oxidative damage and they analyzed enzyme expression in order to find anti-aging mechanisms in queen termites. The researchers found that termite queens had less oxidative damage to their DNA, proteins and lipids when compared to workers. The researchers also found that termite queens and workers both possessed antioxidant-producing genes, but queens showed higher expression-levels for these genes. These two genes produce important antioxidative enzymes that are known as catalase and peroxiredoxin. These enzymes were more active in queen termites than workers, which helps explain the queen’s longevity. The researchers learned that queen termites possess efficient antioxidative systems that make use of enzymes that prevent oxidative damage to cells. Worker termites did not produce nearly as much of these antioxidative enzymes. These enzymes act as anti-aging mechanisms that are are expressed more frequently in queen termites than they are in worker termites.
Why do you think that king termites live much shorter lives than queen termites?