Exploding behavior of C. explodens in experimental setting with a weaver ant. (Credit: Alexey Kopchinskiy CC-BY 4.0)
A new ant species, Colobopsis explodens, was recently identified. Similar to other exploding ant species, Colobopsis explodens is capable of bursting their body to kill or injure its foe in an effort to defend the nest. It will be used as a model species to lay the groundwork for more research on exploding ants.
Colobopsis explodens and autothysis
Through the collaborative effort of research teams from Austria, Brunei, and Thailand, 15 distinct species of exploding ants were recently reported and Colobopsis explodens was one of them.1 These fascinating ant species are described as exploding ants because of their uncanny ability to burst their body as they will. This self-destructing act is referred to as autothysis and these exploding ants are willing to use them in combat even as an initial resort. Minor worker ants, in particular, burst to release a bright yellow sticky liquid from their glands as a way to ward off or destroy other arthropods or animals threatening their colony.2 Apart from minor ant workers, Colobopsis explodens major workers were observed to display a fascinating defensive behavior. Furnished with huge heads, the major workers use them as plugs at the entrances of their nest to thwart the entry of invaders.2
Autothysis is not unique to Colobopsis explodens
Colobopsis explodens and other exploding ants are not the only insects capable of autothysis. Globitermes sulphureus termite soldiers are known for a similar suicidal behavior. They contract their abdominal walls to cause the rupture of a specialized frontal gland containing a sticky liquid in order to entangle their arthropod foes.3 Another species of termites, from the family Serritermitidae, is capable of autothysis as well. Soldier termites rupture their body inside their nest – an indication that the intent is not to kill but an effort to block tunnels to prevent invaders from entering.4
Colobopsis explodens as a model species
What is known about the autothysis behavior of exploding ants is that they use it to kill a foe during a single combat. The ant wraps around itself to its enemy to make sure that when it self-destructs its foe will also be killed or at least injured. The fascination shown by the research teams on exploding ants signifies that Colobopsis explodens is only the beginning of a more profound research. More explorations are foreseen as the teams plan on tracking them down and record their activities. Colobopsis explodens is selected as the model species and soon enough, its biology, chemical profile, evolution, behavior, and ecological significance will be put forth.2
Autothysis seen in Colobopsis explodens is just one of the various sophisticated strategies used by insects during a chemical warfare to fend off their foes. It may seem a high price to pay but these insects would not dither using it even as an initial resort. Colobopsis explodens and all the other exploding ants are a nature’s paragon of valour for their willingness to sacrifice life itself for the benefit of the whole.
— written by Maria Victoria Gonzaga
1 Laciny, A., Zettel, H., Kopchinskiy, A., Pretzer, C., Pal, A., Salim, K.A., Rahimi, M.J., Hoenigsberger, M., Lim, L., Jaitrong, W., & Druzhinina, I.S. (2018). Colobopsis explodens sp. n., model species for studies on “exploding ants” (Hymenoptera, Formicidae), with biological notes and first illustrations of males of the Colobopsis cylindrica group. ZooKeys 751: 1-40. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.751.22661
2Pensoft Publishers. (2018, April 19). New ant species from Borneo explodes to defend its colony. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180419131116.htm
3 Bordereau, C., Robert, A., Van Tuyen, V., & Peppuy, A. (1997). “Suicidal defensive behavior by frontal gland dehiscence in Globitermes sulphureuS Haviland soldiers (Isoptera)”. Insectes Sociaux. 44 (3): 289–297. doi:10.1007/s000400050049
4 ŠobotnÍk, J., Bourguignon, T., Hanus, R., Weyda, F., & Roisin, Y. (2010). “Structure and function of defensive glands in soldiers of Glossotermes oculatus (Isoptera: Serritermitidae)”. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 99 (4): 839–848. doi:10.1111/j.1095-8312.2010.01392.x