The discovery of the "colobopsis explodens" is part of a wider project on Borneo's exploding ants launched in 2014 and funded by the Vienna Science and Technology Fund. Researchers based in Austria, Thailand and Brunei are taking part in the study. The ants are found to be showing their fascinating abilities that involve showering and exploding venomous yellowish goo while attacking the enemies.
After years of tracking and studying ant colonies in the humid jungles of Southeast Asia, scientists finally described the Colobopsis explodens species for the first time earlier this week, in an article published on the journal ZooKeys. Unsurprisingly, this results in immediate death, but rupturing their body wall releases a toxic, sticky liquid from their glands that then either kills the enemy or fends them off from the rest of the colony.
Nature has invented some wonky defense mechanisms, but ants that explode raise the concept to a new level of horror.
While minor workers had the ability to explode, other castes of the species had their own specialties in battle as well. We have some species who don't really like to explode as much.
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The same expedition was used to record the ants' activity schedule and conduct the first experiments on food preferences and exploding behaviour.
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.
The ants are "particularly prone to self-sacrifice" in the face of other invertebrates-insects, spiders and crustaceans, for example-as well as nosey researchers, the authors wrote.
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.
But mystery has surrounded their existence for decades, with no new species discovered since 1935. Where the minor workers blow themselves apart, it appears the major workers' responsibility is to use their larger, plug-shaped heads as barricades to keep intruders out of the nest.