The goal of this study was to test whether the breeding system and/or the degree of inbreeding of field colonies of the Formosan subterranean termite, Coptotermes formosanus, Shiraki (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae) influences bacterial load on the cuticle of foraging workers. We enumerated bacterial load on the cuticle of groups of workers foraging in 20 inground monitoring stations surrounding the French Market in New Orleans, LA, and identified bacteria species using 16S rRNA gene sequencing. We used microsatellite genotyping to assign the 20 worker groups to seven simple family colonies (headed by a single pair of reproductives) and four extended family colonies (headed by multiple inbreeding reproductives) with a wide range of degrees of inbreeding. Workers from extended family colonies had a higher bacterial load than those from simple family colonies; however, bacterial load was not significantly correlated to the degree of inbreeding, possibly because of confounding factors in colony life history, such as age and/or size of colonies. Colonies with high bacterial load did not have a higher proportion of entomopathogens, and thus, bacterial load is not necessarily an indicator for disease risk. The majority of bacteria cultured from the cuticle of termites were soil bacteria with no known pathology against termites.
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