Newly discovered ‘exploding ants’ will kill themselves to protect the colony

It appears exploding ants are real. And scientists have just identified a new species that lives on trees in Borneo.

Appropriately named Colobopsis explodens, this reddish ant has the unique ability to explode toxic yellow liquid (nicknamed yellow goo) on to its enemies.

Impressive as this may sound, it also means the ant ultimately sacrifices itself to protect its colony.

Minor worker of the C. explodens species (Alexey Kopchinskiy)

However, not all ants from this species give up their lives – it is only the minor workers who have the ability to sacrifice themselves to protect other members of the colony.

Alice Laciny, an entomologist with the Natural History Museum in Vienna, said: “The minor workers of this species have large sacs extending from their mandibular glands (in the head) throughout the whole body.

“They are filled with a sticky and toxic defensive secretion. When the ants are attacked by enemy insects, they will attach themselves to the opponent by biting a leg or antenna and then ‘explode’ by contracting their muscles until the gaster (backside of body) ruptures.

“This releases the liquid onto the enemy, who is then immobilised or killed – and also kills the exploded ant.

C. explodens ants exploding over a weaver ant (Alexey Kopchinskiy)

“This defensive mechanism is used to protect the nestmates and foraging grounds from intruding insects – so, a single worker sacrifices itself to protect its relatives.”

Exploding ants are rare and the C. explodens is the first new species to be found since 1935.

This altruistic suicidal nature – called autothysis – is common in insects like ants and bees who work as a collective – where the needs of the colony are deemed more important than the individual.

The research is published in the journal Zoo Keys.

 

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