United Kingdom scientists discover new species of 'exploding ant'

A major worker of Colobopsis explodens with its characteristically enlarged head

Scientists said the new species of ant was "particularly prone to self-sacrifice when threatened by enemy arthropods as well as intruding researchers".

A minor worker ant raises its rear in a defensive position. The body of C. explodens is filled with glandular sacs containing a toxic, yellow secretion.

Tomer Czaczkes, a behavioral ecologist specializing in ants, at the University of Regensburg, Germany, said that science has known of exploding ants for more than a hundred years, but that they have been very rare. A type of tree-dwelling ant found in Borneo has a class of workers that sacrifice themselves to protect their colonies.

"It is still not clear why they are doing this, but we already discovered several new species of very interesting fungi that are growing on this foliage". Speaking to Haaretz, Laciny says similar discoveries were made in the middle of World War I: "The exploding behavior was first observed in 1916 by German entomologist Hugo Viehmeyer (apparently a war was not enough to distract him from his research)".




Who explodes and who doesn't also seems to be connected to the complex social hierarchy of the ants. The secretion is yellow, with nearly the consistency of a curry sauce.

The researchers report that not every member of the species goes bang. The researchers published their findings this week in the ZooKeys journal. The observations and experiments conducted on the newly described species have laid important groundwork for future research that will uncover even more details about these enigmatic explosive insects.

If an insect survives the minor worker's goo attack, it must then try to negotiate a way past one of these major workers, identifiable by their enlarged heads. Their ability of exploding is as sturdy as it may lead to explode the ant itself and attempt suicide. And in addition to documenting the ants' exploding behaviour in more detail, the researchers also studied their eating habits; these insects like to munch on algae, moss, fungi, dead insects, fruit, and fish. Instead, scientists used to simply refer to them as the members of a remarkable species group - Colobopsis cylindrica, better known as "the exploding ants".

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