Published: Mon, April 23, 2018
Money | By Wilma Wheeler

A species of ant that 'explodes' found in Brunei

A species of ant that 'explodes' found in Brunei

When confronted by an enemy, Southeast Asian "exploding ants" do exactly what their name implies: they explode.

An interdisciplinary research team remedied this lack of taxonomic information when they identified 15 separate species of exploding ants, one of which had not been discovered before.

While the behavior of exploding ants has been known since at least 1916, the insects have remained largely mysterious over the decades, with no new species formally described since 1935. At the origin of this discovery, Alice Laciny, doctoral student at the Museum of Natural History in Vienna, responsible for the identification of this species with a particular warrior customs.

Ants are capable of incredible prosocial behaviours, such as creating bridges and life rafts out of their bodies, collecting wounded comrades from the battlefield, and even administering medical care. The body of C. explodens is filled with glandular sacs containing a toxic, yellow secretion.

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

Because these odd 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.

Further studies are already underway examining Colobopsis explodens more closely, according to the researchers. The new species earned this designation because it's particularly prone to self-sacrifice when threatened (minor workers of this species even blew themselves up when researchers got too close).

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.

Findings about more species, as well as details about the ants' behaviour, anatomy, evolution and the chemical composition of their weaponized goo, are set to be shared in the near future. For example, major workers (also called "doorkeepers") have big, plug-shaped heads used to physically barricade the nest entrances against intruders.

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

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