Vale Isoptera. Salve Termitoidae


One of the horrors of science is that sometimes you have to let go of things that are comfortable, familiar and seem right but are then found to be not the best fit for the evidence.  I can't count the number of updated names of plants and animals that I've had to re-learn, but this one is a big one.

The termites had their own Order Isoptera within the Insecta, which seemed perfectly valid due to their different brand of sociality, reliance on symbionts and a host of other differences.  Sure we all accepted that they were very close to the cockroaches and had apparently come from early cockroach stock.  There's the problem.

In recent years lots of geneticists have begun to look at the nucleic acids of animals, the DNA, the RNA and often quite specifically the mitochondrial DNA.  This data clearly has the termites being of cockroach stock with most of the apparent differences arising as a function of sociality.  Some fought to retain Isoptera, but in doing so inadvertently supplied the best solution, and Isoptera has now become the epifamily Termitoidae.

So what does this mean?  Not much.  Time to change the text books and get back to work.  Still, I'll miss the simplicity of the equal wing name.  (Of course some still cling to bunching termites cockroaches and mantises in a single group, as Dictyoptera but to me that has to be a higher level again).  That's science for you, things just keep changing but we know more and more. 

(Vale is Latin for goodbye and salve is a greeting)