At first glance these ants don’t seem very interesting or even that deadly but researchers have discovered a unique new ant species in the tree tops of Southeast Asia. There  you will find an ant species that has a different way of dealing with threats.

Most living organisms run, stay still, camouflage and  fight when faced with a threat, but not these self sacrificing species. Let me welcome you the  ‘Colobopsis explodens’, these ants EXPLODE with a yellow toxic substance that will kill the much larger threat to protect their colony. 

Most animals who use toxic chemicals as a defensive mechanism tend to bite such as spiders, snakes, reptiles and other insects. Others such as skunks and  venom spitting scorpions will spray their prey or to scare of enemies.

Two ants fighting it out, the exploding ant (Right) releasing its toxic goo. - Credits to Mark Moffet minden pictures/newscom

Two ants fighting it out, the exploding ant (Right) releasing its toxic goo. – Credits to Mark Moffet minden pictures/newscorp

These self sacrificing ants ‘explode’ by strongly contracting  the gastor ( bottom of the ant ) until the ends split and the toxic substance bursts out of the seams of the gastor. Drenching the threat/s and eventually killing it.

The exploding ants were originally called ‘yellow goo’ ants but researchers have a created  a category of self sacrificing ants called C.explodens. Any insect that self scarified in the presence of a threat would be categorised into this this new group. Researchers determined that their are at least 15 species of self-sacrificing insects.

Difference in labor

Generally, it is the major worker ants that attack and defend the nest in the ant world but with the exploding ants its the opposite, it the minor small ants that are laced with this toxin. The major workers ants tend to stay underground in the nests and defend inside. If all fails before the threat arrives the larger major ants don’t actually have this unique toxin inside of their bodies. The major workers have a abnormally large heads that almost looks like a shield. They use this shield to plug the holes of the entrances of the nest so the threat cannot enter. 


Major worker ants with its enlarged shield like head

Major worker ants with its enlarged shield like head – Credit Heinz Wiesbauer


Can a self exploding ant colony be sustainable? 

Yes, the Colobopsis explodens colonies have thousands of ants to sustain themselves and exploding toxic goo has become a useful defence mechanism. Ants have many predators that prey on them and various ant species have developed interesting ways to protect themselves. Even though exploding may seem quite extreme for survival but it may be necessary to save many other members of the colony. 

So much more to learn

Alice Laciny, an entomologist with Natural History Museum Vienna in Austria described the first new species of exploding ant since 1935 in the journal Zookeys wishes to unravel the mysteries of the yellow goo and how the ants coordinate explosions to take down larger and more dangerous threats.

Unfortunately, the trees that exploding ants call home survive in some of the few intact rain forests remaining on Borneo, places where it rains in amounts “unimaginable to a person from Central Europe,” Laciny says.

 (April 19) in the journal ZooKeys.

Original article on Live Science.