The process kills the ant, but it can also kill or hamper an invading insect.
Scientists have surveyed different species of "exploding ants" for many years however a deficit of latest proof since 1935 prompted a multi-disciplinary staff of Viennese scientists to discover Southeast Asia. Thus, entomologists, botanists, microbiologists, and chemists from the Natural History Museum Vienna, Technical University Vienna, IFA Tulln and Universiti Brunei Darussalam together identified roughly 15 separate species of exploding ants, with one of them now described as new to science in the open access journal ZooKeys. Unsurprisingly, this results in immediate death, but rupturing their body wall releases a toxic, sticky liquid from their glands that then either kills the enemy or fends them off from the rest of the colony.
Ants are capable of unbelievable prosocial behaviours, such as creating bridges and life rafts out of their bodies, collecting wounded comrades from the battlefield, and even administering medical care.
However, the ability is extremely rare and no other exploding species has been described since the 1930s.
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The exploding minor workers aren't the only interesting ants here. Nicknamed "explosive ant", Colobopsis explodens is indeed able to turn into a real animal bomb when it comes to defeating its enemies. It is only the minor workers, all sterile females, who will sacrifice their lives by exploding in order to protect the bigger members of the colony.
Scientists call this "autothysis", a suicidal behaviour that's also been documented in some termites. They were found to be "particularly prone to self-sacrifice" as a defence and would even detonate when the intruding researchers approached.
It's title as a model species is exciting as it means that Colobopsis explodens will serve as an important navigation point for all future research on the group of ants. This new paper now sets the groundwork for future research, including studies of their behaviour, chemical profile, microbiology, anatomy, and evolution. Small minor workers are selfless ants that explode into yellow goo in combat, while major workers or "soldier ants" barricade the nest entrance with their massive plug-shaped heads.
The new species bears the evocative name "Colobopsis explodens".