Newly discovered exploding ant sacrifices itself for the colony

A minor worker ant cocked and ready to explode

Woe is the insect that crosses the path of the Colobopsis explodens ant.

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. Self-destructive tendencies among some ants were first observed in 1916, but the new report marks the first time since 1935 that a new species has been described, according to a summary by the publishers of the journal. In addition, the explosion leads to a sticky, toxic liquid being released from the ants's enlarged glands.

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.

The same expedition was used to record the ants' activity schedule and conduct the first experiments on food preferences and exploding behaviour.

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.

Scientists call this "autothysis", a suicidal behaviour that's also been documented in some termites.

Our knowledge of exploding ants can be traced back to more than a century ago, with various species recorded in literature in the early 1900s. The researchers consider C. explodens to be a model species of exploding ant, which means it'll now serve as a reference point, or an exemplar, for future research. The Colobopsis explodens rips itself apart for only the most threatening of predators.

The ants are "particularly prone to self-sacrifice" in the face of other invertebrates-insects, spiders and crustaceans, for example-as well as nosey researchers, the authors wrote. They say they still need to know more about the ants' behavior, chemical profile, microbiology, anatomy and evolution. Major workers, for instance, have disproportionately large heads, which they use to plug nest entrances in order to barricade against invaders.

As noted, only minor workers explode, but the researchers also discovered other specialities among other castes.

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