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Superregnum: Eukaryota
Cladus: Unikonta
Cladus: Opisthokonta
Cladus: Holozoa
Regnum: Animalia
Subregnum: Eumetazoa
Cladus: Bilateria
Cladus: Nephrozoa
Cladus: Protostomia
Cladus: Ecdysozoa
Cladus: Panarthropoda
Phylum: Arthropoda
Subphylum: Hexapoda
Classis: Insecta
Cladus: Dicondylia
Subclassis: Pterygota
Cladus: Metapterygota
Infraclassis: Neoptera
Supercohort: Polyneoptera
Cohort: Dictyoptera
Ordo: Isoptera

Familia: Mastotermitidae
Genus: Mastotermes
Species: M. darwiniensis
+ fossil species

Mastotermes Froggatt, 1897

Froggatt, W.W. 1897: Australian Termitidae. Part II. Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales, 21: 510–552.
Krishna, K.; Emerson, A.E. 1983: A new fossil species of termite from Mexican amber, Mastotermes electromexicus (Isoptera, Mastotermitidae). American Museum Novitates, (2767)
Krishna, K.; Grimaldi, D.A. 1991: A new fossil species from Dominican amber of the living Australian termite genus Mastotermes (Isoptera: Mastotermitidae). American Museum Novitates, (3021)
Wappler, T.; Engel, M.S. 2006: A new record of Mastotermes from the Eocene of Germany (Isoptera: Mastotermitidae). Journal of paleontology, 80: 380–385. PDF



Vernacular names
English: Giant Northern Termite

Mastotermes is a genus of termites. The sole living species is Mastotermes darwiniensis, found only in northern Australia. A number of extinct taxa are known from fossils. It is a very peculiar insect, the most primitive termite alive.[1] As such, it shows notable similarities to certain cockroaches, the termites' closest relatives. These similarities include the anal lobe of the wing and the laying of eggs in bunches, rather than singly. The termites were traditionally placed in the Exopterygota, but such an indiscriminate treatment makes that group a paraphyletic grade of basal neopterans. Thus, the cockroaches, termites and their relatives are nowadays placed in a clade called Dictyoptera.

These singular termites appear at first glance like a cockroaches abdomen with a termite's head and thorax. Their wings have the same design as those of the cockroaches, and its eggs are laid in a case as are cockroach eggs. It is thought to have evolved from the same ancestors as the wood roaches (Cryptocercus) in the Permian. Fossil wings have been discovered in the Permian of Kansas which have a close resemblance to wings of Mastotermes of the Mastotermitidae,[2] which is the most primitive living termite. This fossil species is Pycnoblattina. It folded its wings in a convex pattern between segments 1a and 2a. Mastotermes darwiniensis is the only living insect that does the same.[3] However, Pycnoblattina has been demonstrated to be unrelated to termites and the earliest termites are from the latest Jurassic-earliest Cretaceous. Unlike cockroaches, not all termites have wings: Only the reproductives, (see Termites-life cycle) whose wings are considerably longer than their abdomen. Mastotermes darwiniensis is usually not very numerous, nor are the colonies large when left to natural conditions. However, when given abundant water(such as regular irrigation) and favourable food & soil conditions (such as stored timber or timber structures), populations can be enormous, numbering in the millions, quickly destroying their host. Its diet is varied, as it will eat introduced plants, damage ivory and leather, and wood and debris, in fact almost anything organic. It becomes a major agricultural pest, to the extent that vegetable farming has been virtually abandoned in Northern Australia[4] wherever this termite is numerous, which it is outside of the rain forest or bauxite soils.[5] It has developed the ability to bore up into a living tree and ring bark it such that it dies and becomes the center of a colony.

Mastotermes darwiniensis is the only known host of the symbiotic protozoan Mixotricha paradoxa, remarkable for its multiple bacterial symbionts.
Fossil record

Numerous extinct taxa have been described in the genus Mastotermes. The genus had a worldwide distribution until just a few million years ago, when all but the M. darwiniensis became extinct.[6]

Fossil species of Mastotermes include:[7]

Mastotermes aethiopicus Engel et al. 2016 Ethiopia, Miocene
Mastotermes anglicus Rosen, 1913 (Bembridge Marls, England, Priabonian
Mastotermes bournemouthensis Rosen, 1913 (Late Eocene of England)
Mastotermes croaticus Rosen, 1913 (Early Miocene of Croatia)
Mastotermes electrodominicus Krishna & Grimaldi, 1991 (Early Miocene of the Dominican Republic)
Mastotermes electromexicus Krishna & Emerson, 1983 (Late Oligocene to Early Miocene Mexican amber)
Mastotermes gallica Nel, 1986 (Early Oligocene of France)
Mastotermes haidingeri (Heer, 1849) (Early Miocene of Croatia)
Mastotermes heerii (Göppert, 1855) (Late Oligocene of Poland) - tentatively placed in Mastotermes
Mastotermes krishnorum Wappler & Engel, 2006 (Middle Eocene of Germany)
Mastotermes minor Pongrácz, 1928 (Early Miocene of Croatia)
Mastotermes minutus Nel & Bourguet, 2006 (Eocene of France)
Mastotermes monostichus Zhao et al. 2019 Burmese amber, Myanmar, Cenomanian
Mastotermes nepropadyom Vršanský and Aristov 2014 Doronino Formation, Russia, Barremian
Mastotermes picardi Nel & Paicheler, 1993 (Late Oligocene of France)
Mastotermes sarthensis Schlüter, 1989 Bezonnais amber, France, Cenomanian
Mastotermites stuttgartensis Armbruster, 1941 (Middle Miocene of Germany) - tentatively placed in Mastotermes


[1] Tree of Life Web Project. 2003. Isoptera. Termites. Version 1 January 2003 (temporary). in The Tree of Life Web Project, Mastotermitidae picture
Tillyard RJ (1937) Kansas Permian insects. Part XX the cockroaches, or order Blattaria I, II Am. Journal of Science 34; 169-202, 249-276.
Hill, G.F., (1942)but modern termite management has allowed horticultural development since World War 2, although it can at times be a problem. Termites (Isoptera) from the Australian Region. H.E. Daw, Govt. Printer, Melbourne, Austr.
Brittan EB et al. (30 authors) (1970) The Insects of Australia. Melbourne University Press. On p285
Krishna, K., D.A. Grimaldi, V. Krishna, & M.S. Engel (2013) Treatise on the Isoptera of the world. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 377: 1-2704.

Krishna, K., D.A. Grimaldi, V. Krishna, & M.S. Engel (2013) Treatise on the Isoptera of the world. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 377: 1-2704.

Weesner, F. M. (January 1960). "Evolution and biology of the termites". Annual Review of Entomology. 5: 153–170. doi:10.1146/annurev.en.05.010160.001101.
"Mastotermitidae". Retrieved 1 December 2007.

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