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White-gutted soldiers: simplification of the digestive tube for a non-particulate diet in higher Old World termites (Isoptera: Termitidae).

Abstract

Previous observations have noted that in some species of higher termites the soldier caste lacks pigmented particles in its gut and, instead, is fed worker saliva that imparts a whitish coloration to the abdomen. In order to investigate the occurrence of this trait more thoroughly, we surveyed a broad diversity of termite specimens and taxonomic descriptions from the Old World subfamilies Apicotermitinae, Cubitermitinae, Foraminitermitinae, Macrotermitinae, and Termitinae. We identified 38 genera that have this "white-gutted" soldier (WGS) trait. No termite soldiers from the New World were found to possess a WGS caste. Externally, the WGS is characterized by a uniformly pale abdomen, hyaline gut, and proportionally smaller body-to-head volume ratio compared with their "dark-gutted" soldier (DGS) counterparts found in most termitid genera. The WGS is a fully formed soldier that, unlike soldiers in other higher termite taxa, has a small, narrow, and decompartmentalized digestive tube that lacks particulate food contents. The presumed saliva-nourished WGS have various forms of simplified gut morphologies that have evolved at least six times within the higher termites.

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