Published: Sat, April 21, 2018
Money | By Armando Alvarado

With spurt of toxic goo, 'exploding ants' sacrifice themselves to protect colony

With spurt of toxic goo, 'exploding ants' sacrifice themselves to protect colony

However, the ability is extremely rare and no other exploding species has been described since the 1930s.

The ants had been noticed creating bridges or life rafts with their our bodies, transporting different wounded ants, and even offering "medical care" in some cases. It explodes - killing itself - and coats adversaries in a toxic yellow goo, the ultimate act of self-sacrifice to protect its colony.

Because these unusual and remarkable creatures have not been well studied, an interdisciplinary team from Austria, Thailand and Brunei came together in 2014 to classify different species of exploding ants.

According to researchers from Austria, Thailand and Brunei, who recently discovered 15 new species of a group they are calling Colobopsis cylindrica, or "the exploding ants", minor workers in the species can actively rupture their own body walls.

Minor workers are not capable of reproducing, which is why they can be sacrificed. Unlike the individuals of most species, who seek to preserve and proliferate their genes, ants and termites work on behalf of the entire colony; the loss of an individual, while not ideal, is secondary to the needs of the collective, which is why ants are referred to as a superorganism.

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This species, found in Southeast Asia, comes from the group Colobopsis cylindrical, known for its suicidal tendencies.

The scientists deemed members of Colobopsis explodens to be "particularly prone to self-sacrifice when threatened by enemy arthropods, as well as intruding researchers".

They said their observations and experiments conducted on the newly described species had laid important groundwork for future research. The new species is called Colobopsis explodens, but the researchers like to call it "yellow goo" on account of its bright yellow grand secretion.

While minor workers had the ability to explode, other castes of the species had their own specialties in battle as well. Take the "doorkeeper", for example.

If enemies survive the first line of defense, they will come face-to-face with the colony's major workers and their enlarged, plug-shaped heads, researchers wrote. This gives them a very sci-fi alien look. The process kills the ant, but it can also kill or hamper an invading insect. This new paper now sets the groundwork for future research, including studies of their behaviour, chemical profile, microbiology, anatomy, and evolution.

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