Ah, the life of a termite queen. Once you've established a colony, your main job is to mate with the termite king and fill your subterranean halls with your squirming, wood-hungry brood. Apparently, however, all that baby-making takes a toll on your life span, while the king lives on. Enter the secondary queen, who picks up right where the dead primary queen left off.
Scientists at North Carolina State University have made a fascinating discovery concerning just where this secondary queen comes from. While the primary queen produces the rest of the colony's young through sexual reproduction with the king, she goes it alone when it comes to spawning a successor. Yes, she produces asexually, producing an offspring that shares only her genes -- essentially cloning herself.
According to an article at Science Daily, the termite queen uses this alternate method of reproduction to maintain genetic diversity and avoid the dangers of inbreeding. In other words, the termite king doesn't start reproducing with his own daughter. This arrangement also allows for maximum reproductive efficiency, as the primary queen doesn't need to slow down and worry about her own health.
The university study just covered Japanese termites, but the researchers plan to examine other species of termite for signs of asexual reproduction among termite royalty.