ORLANDO - Scientists trying to understand why destructive wood-eating termites are so resistant to efforts to exterminate them have come up with an unusually repugnant explanation.
Termites' practice of building nests out of their own faeces creates a scatological force field that Florida scientists now believe is the reason biological controls have failed to stop their pestilential march all over the world.
A nine-year study concluded that termite faeces act as a natural antibiotic, growing good bacteria in the subterranean nests that attack otherwise deadly pathogens, according to the findings published this month in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
"When they make a poop, it's not like they can throw it away and say forget about this. And over the millions of years of evolution it somehow evolved to take advantage of the poop there," said Mr Nan-Yao Su, a University of Florida entomology professor and lead scientist and co-author of the study, along with Mr Thomas Chouvenc, a University of Florida research associate.
Mr Su also is the inventor of the popular Sentricon termite baiting and control system, which in 1995 became the first major alternative to liquid chemical treatments.
The findings could put an end to 50 years of failed research attempts to find a species of fungi that could kill termites when introduced into nests. Research repeatedly showed that fungi killed termites in a petri dish but not in the wild, Mr Su said.