UK scientists discover new species of 'exploding ant'

UK scientists discover new species of 'exploding ant'
By Chris Pilcher
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The remarkable insect has been discovered deep in the Borneo jungle, which rips its torso apart when coming under attack from certain predators.

Sacrificing itself for the colony


A new species of ant has been discovered, which has the ability to explode when under attack in an attempt to save its own colony. Fittingly, these bizarre creatures have been named Colobopsis explodens and can be found high in the treetops of Borneo, Thailand.

On the outside, to any predators, the species seems fairly inconspicuous with its brown-reddish colour and lack of a stinger.

But, as described by Alice Laciny, an entomologist at Vienna's Natural History Museum who's leading the study, when these ants feel threatened, they raise up their rumps as a warning. If the would-be attacker fails to back away, the tiny ant bites down, angling its backside in close and flexes so hard until their abdomens burst at the seams. She says; _"It's a bit like the mechanism of when a bee stings,"

Alice Laciny and her colleagues have published their remarkable findings in the journal ZooKeys.

A toxic subtance that 'smells like curry'

Not only do the ants posess the ability to blow themselves up, but upon explosion, they unleash a brighty yellow, sticky fluid. Even more strangely, Laciny says, this lethal goo has a not unpleasant smell similar to curry. As well as being toxic, the substance permanently binds its corpse to the intruder, which, even if not dead, is certainly deterred.

Scientists have been aware of exploding ants for more than a hundred years. Early descriptions of them date back to as early as 1798. Speaking to Haaretz, Laciny says similar discoveries were made in the middle of World War I:"The exploding behavior was first observed in 1916 by German entomologist Hugo Viehmeyer (apparently a war was not enough to distract him from his research)."

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

Laciny says this kind of "suicidal defence" is only common in social species, as with ants, bees and termites. Alice says;"An ant colony shouldn't be treated as a family of individuals, but really like a super organism, and each ant acts more like a cell in a body and it has its own role to play."

Exploding not just for anyone

However, the ant's act of self-sacrifice isn't reserved for anyone. The Colobopsis explodens rips itself apart for only the most threatening of predators. They were found to even detonate when the intruding researches approached.

Furthermore, this incredible characteristic isn't mainstream throughout the ant's species. Scientists say just "minor workers", including all sterile females, are blessed with the capability, while the remaining members offer up other defensive tricks. For example, the so-called 'major workers' have stumpy legs and huge heads in order to barricade nest entrances from intruders.

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