There are so many observations added to flavipes, despite other Reticulitermes species also being perfectly prolific. R. virginicus range covers almost all of flavipes range, yet there are 8 virginicus IDs in the US, compared to over 5k flavipes observations. It’s not like virginicus is rare, I’ve had huge flights of them where I’m at.
Are termites that can’t be identified down to the species level just intentionally added to flavipes/hesperus depending on location? Or are there just tons of termites that are incorrectly identified to the species level? I feel like it’d be odd to intentionally misidentify a termite that can only be confidently identified down to the genus.
Examples: 123 (I have more, but new user link limitations…)
I appreciate the question, I’ve wondered how people ID these. In my area (Sonoma County, California) every Rhinotermitidae observation is IDed as R. hesperus. There is a single IDer responsible for almost all those IDs. Maybe contact them?
The simple answer is computer vision: all three examples you provided were initially identified that way. Once there are enough research grade observations of a particular species, the computer vision will offer it up as the likely ID for any similar looking observation. This works well enough for things that can actually be identified by photo, but not so much for more cryptic species like many insects.
Gotcha. Frustrating that people just rely on the computer assessment instead of properly identifying species, arthropods especially have groups of species that cannot be differentiated without a microscope or even dissection You would hope people suggesting IDs would be more knowledgeable about the animal they’re IDing
Hello! I’m not one of the people listed, but I am one of the people who uploads Species level ID’s for Reticulitermes hesperus , I apologize if it’s literally impossible to ID to species with the naked eye, but I’ve been told multiple times that this is the only Reticulitermes sp. in my area, so I default to R. hesperus.
Welcome to the forum! I’ve been wondering for a while what the deal with these termites was, thanks for explaining. The link you provided raised a question for me. I’m in RI, and it seems the only Reticulitermes species in my area is R. flavipes according to the range map. My question is, would it be possible to identify by range if there’s only one species in the area?
Heh, I’ve got one, too. Would be curious about it. My ID was based on what our hike leader said + the following:
Lack of awareness: Most people probably don’t know anything about the intricacies of termite identification. I’m more of a plant geek and this forum thread is the first time I’m hearing there should be more than a single species in my area. (Possible fix: educate observers by making comments on observations.)
Reliance on iNat CV: It confidently suggests a single species. For non-expert observers that looks like a slam-dunk ID. (Possible fix: Correct enough IDs to get more species included in the CV training set.)
It looks like a perfect self-reinforcing feedback loop based on the CV suggesting a single species and most people not knowing any better. In addition, there are not enough records of other species on iNat to make the non-expert observer even aware of their existence. So they are likely flying under the radar so to speak. Not a lot of iNat users read the forum, so the best way to get the word out probably would be via comments on observations.
For example, I do like to check for similar species before settling on an ID. However, in the area that I usually observe and ID in, 100% of termite observations at species level are R. flavipes. There is no indication other species even exist in the area based on exploring the iNat maps. There are a few other species listed as commonly misidentified as this species but not R. virginicus, and as mentioned there are a pathetic 8 observations of that on iNat so nowhere close to being included in CV suggestions. There is no hint for me as a non-expert on this group of organisms to even guess that as a possible alternative ID.
If you know that there are definitely multiple species in an area, it’s totally fine to correct them. I’d just make yourself some polite copy/paste text, preferably with a source describing/showing the distributions of the species, and add that as a comment when you disagree to a higher level. You might also want to see if there’s a species complex or similar that might be an accurate ID (or maybe could be added if it doesn’t already exist), so that when you disagree, it is only as far up the tree as needed. Good luck!
I always upload my termite observations just as Termites. It is a human observer that comes through thereafter and IDs them as R. hesperus.
EDIT: Actually, I just checked, and I was wrong about my own IDs. There were a few cases where, probably because that is what is already IDed in my area, I went to the species level a few years ago. I’ve fixed those now.
There are actually two feedback loops here: CV learning from its own suggestions to reinforce a potentially wrong ID, AND the assumption that something is a particular taxon because that’s the only taxon known from the area.
Many of us are guilty of the second one, me included, but it’s always useful to be mindful that it is a circular argument: you will never find a new species in an area where you identify everything as the only taxon you assume to occur in this area.
R. hesperus is kind of an exception since there’s definitely ranges where it’s the only native species, I threw it in there since it was one of the big two but I forgot that hesperus ids make more sense.
The observation you linked could narrow it down (those are not hageni or malletei), but to confidently identify down to species you would need to measure the alates and their wings. R. virginicus and R. flavipes look essentially identical, but virginicus is fairly smaller. Without measuring I only know of one microscopic trait that differentiates them.
Yeah, unfortunately I don’t think CV even could reliably help because of how similar Reticulitermes are visually. I don’t think it could tell with winged alates (which are the most visually distinct caste among species in the genus), but even a microscope can’t differentiate workers.
R. virginicus is probably just as widespread as flavipes, but without exact measurements or microscopic examination they cannot be differentiated, I would bet a lot of flavipes IDs are virginicus. There’s for sure other species in your area, R. flavipes’ entire range overlaps with at least one other species.
I think the only reasonable solution for accuracy would be putting all Reticulitermes observations at the genus level unless there are clear indicators as to which species it is, but I don’t think that’s realistic sadly.
I study termites, the IDs are not because some people are extra proficient at termite IDs. Workers cannot be visually differentiated by any means, and wingless alates/soldiers often require microscopic examination. A lot of the observations have 0 basis for identification to the species level.
If there are whole geographic areas where all the observations need to be moved to the genus, start a flag on the species and split could be arranged to push all of the offending observations to the genus or complex level
If there are some that are supported within the literature/phylogenies, you can ask for them to be created by a curator.
Also, side FYI, you can respond to multiple comments in the same post. If you make a lot of individual posts in a short period of time, Discourse (the forum platform) may show you warnings or slow you down.
Thanks for the link! But your interpretation goes too far. According to the maps in the article, R. flavipes is the only subterranean termite found in the Northeast U.S., i.e. Pennsylvania and to the Northeast of that state.