Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science in Entomology (MS)

Degree Level





Allen L. Szalanski

Committee Member

Donn Johnson

Second Committee Member

Joe DeMark


Biological sciences; Coptotermes formosanus; Entomology; Isoptera; Molecular genetics; Reticulitermes


This work applies molecular genetic tools to distinguish the identity and understand the biology of termites, particularly Reticulitermes Holmgren and Coptotermes formosanus Shiraki (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae) in the southeastern U.S. Termites are important economic pests costing billions of dollars annually to Americans but also are important wood decomposers in natural settings. Molecular tools are essential for species identification because of the morphological ambiguities among species. The cryptic nest structure of subterranean termites which prevents adequate sampling makes molecular genetic tools essential to examine an entire colony.

A molecular diagnostic technique was created to differentiate Coptotermes formosanus, an invasive species in the U.S., from native subterranean termites. Using a multiplex PCR protocol, this method can distinguish C. formosanus even from a single specimen or sample lacking the diagnostic castes.

In southern Mississippi, a new termite species was observed and confirmed genetically. Using both morphological and molecular phylogenetic evidence, Reticulitermes mississippiensis Janowiecki, Szalanski, and Austin sp. nov. is described here as a new species.

The breeding structure of a termite colony refers to the number of male and female termites reproducing in the colony that contribute to the genetic diversity of the colony. While this is near impossible to determine from a field census, microsatellite DNA analysis has been previously applied to investigate this biological aspect in the North Carolina, South Carolina, Massachusetts, and Tennessee. Here, we apply these techniques to three species of Reticulitermes from three sites in northwest Arkansas. Generally, our results were similar to those previously observed with 22% of the colonies being simple families (one male and one female), 72% extended families (the offspring of one male and one female reproducing) and 6% being mixed families (where multiple unrelated reproductives are reproducing in the colony). This study observed the first mixed family colonies of Reticulitermes hageni Banks. While these results show interesting trends of family structure for each species, more sampling is required to verify these observations.