Most people know termites as insect-pests that destroy wooden foundations and structures. However, there may be more to termites than you average Joe assumes. For example, people certainly don’t consider termites to be plant pollinators, like bees or butterflies, but this may be a mistake as a recent fossil discovery has demonstrated.
A fifteen to twenty million year old fossil showing an ancient termite encased in amber has scientists rethinking the nature of termites. It was found that the ancient termite pollinated milkweed plants. This determination was made after scientists found traces of milkweed within the encased amber. More specifically, the insect was found with pollen grains attached to its head, clearly indicating pollinating behavior. So far this termite is the only known termite to show evidence of plant pollinating activity. Not even extinct termites have been found to have indulged in the activity of pollination. As it happens, this is also the first instance of a fossilized milkweed flower being found by anyone.
So far, the only termite in existence that has been found by some researchers to pollinate plants exists only in Australia, and these termites are poorly researched and rarely seen in the wild. However, this ancient termite did not necessarily pollinate plants, at the moment there does not exist enough data and research to support the idea that termites once pollinated plants. It is also quite likely that the termite was found with pollen on its head solely because it was seeking out the sweet taste of nectar. In this case, even ancient termites don’t typically pollinate by nature, although termites can still be indirectly responsible for flower-pollination.
What is the most unlikely arthropod that you know sometimes, or regularly, pollinates flowers?