When faced with an enemy Southeast Asian "exploding ants" do exactly what their name implies: they explode. For decades, researchers have been ignoring a detailed study of these enigmatic ants and discovering more than a dozen species that fit into this group, including one that is completely new to science.
Ants are able to astonish prosocial behavior, such as building bridges and liferafts from their bodies, collecting wounded comrades from the battlefield, and even providing medical care. But in terms of self-sacrifice, there is nothing resembling the tree-dwelling "exploding ants" of Southeast Asia who are ready to give up their lives to protect their colony.
Faced with a threat like a predatory insect, a small worker can purposely rip his abdominal wall. The ant literally does not explode in a Michael Bay style, but the desperate move causes a sticky and toxic liquid to leak from its bloated glands – a noxious substance that can kill the intruder. It's one last deadly act to our exploding protagonist, but the ant really goes out in glory; By using this form of chemical warfare, the ant contributes to the protection of the colony.
Scientists call this "autothysis", a suicidal behavior that is also documented in some termites. In fact, it is the kind of Borg-like collective behavior that can arise only among supersocial organisms. Unlike the individuals of most species who want to preserve and multiply their genes, ants and termites work for the entire colony; The loss of an individual, although not ideal, is secondary to the needs of the collective, which is why ants are referred to as superorganisms. (Humans also show many superorganism-like traits, but whether or not it is appropriate to compare humans to ants will be left to you.)
Scientists have known about exploding ants for more than a hundred years. Several species were documented in the first half of the 20th century, and a new species group called Colobopsis cylindrica was created to describe them. Strangely, however, no new species was identified after 1935 due to a lack of evidence. This seemed strange to the scientists, prompted by a recent expedition to Borneo, Thailand and Malaysia by an interdisciplinary research team from the Museum of Natural History Vienna, the Vienna University of Technology and other institutions involved.
The results of her survey, published today in the science journal ZooKeys identifies 15 different types of exploding ants, including one that is completely new to science. The new species is called Colobopsis explodens but the researchers like to call it "yellow goo" because of its bright yellow large secret. The researchers consider C. explodens to be a model species of the exploding ant, meaning that it will now serve as a reference point or model for future research. The new species received this name because it is particularly susceptible to self-sacrifice when threatened (small workers of this species blew themselves up when the researchers came too close).
As mentioned above, only small workers explode, but the researchers also discovered other specialties among other castes. Take, for example, the "doorkeeper". Members of this odd-looking caste have large, rod-shaped heads that block the entrance to the nest. Honestly, this thing looks like a rejection of science-fiction conceptual art.
During the same expedition, the researchers also observed a flying mating pair that had never been seen before. The researchers have not only documented the exploding behavior of the ants in more detail, but also examined their eating habits; These insects like to eat algae, moss, mushrooms, dead insects, fruits and fish.
These ants sound very interesting, but as the researchers show in the study, there is still much to learn about these insects. This new paper now forms the basis for future research, including studies of their behavior, chemical profile, microbiology, anatomy and evolution.