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Underbug

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Lisa Margonelli

Approximately 250 to 155 million years ago, termites evolved from cockroaches, and they possessed a distinctive characteristic: microbes in their guts that enabled them to digest wood. As time passed, they developed into highly social beings and established large colonies. Humans have long been intrigued by these colonies, but it was only recently that scientists ceased projecting human concepts onto them. Once they refrained from doing so, they unveiled termites' extraordinary architectural talents, their capacity to "farm" fungi, and the potential mechanisms that could enable us to produce sustainable biofuels.

hashtagpopular-science
hashtagbiology
hashtagnatural-history
hashtaganimals
clock14 min
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target5 Insight

What's it about?

Underbug explores the intriguing world of termites, a bug that is often disliked even more than cockroaches. Drawing on extensive research and interviews with experts in biology, entomology, and genetics, Lisa Margonelli aims to restore the reputation of this underappreciated insect. Throughout the book, she highlights the remarkable architectural abilities of termites, analyzes their bizarre relationship with an ancient fungus, and explores how the microbes in their digestive systems could contribute to a more sustainable future.

Book summary

Approximately 250 to 155 million years ago, termites evolved from cockroaches, and they possessed a distinctive characteristic: microbes in their guts that enabled them to digest wood. As time passed, they developed into highly social beings and established large colonies. Humans have long been intrigued by these colonies, but it was only recently that scientists ceased projecting human concepts onto them. Once they refrained from doing so, they unveiled termites' extraordinary architectural talents, their capacity to "farm" fungi, and the potential mechanisms that could enable us to produce sustainable biofuels.

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The termites eat wood, which humans value highly.

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Similar to other social insects, termites have often been regarded as reflections of human society.

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The social behaviour of termites presents an evolutionary puzzle.

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Termite mounds exhibit characteristics similar to organic bodies.

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Termites are individually unintelligent but collectively exhibit smart behaviour.

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