Newly Discovered 'Exploding Ant' Species is a Terrifying Product of Evolution

Weird Science
Sunday, 22 April 2018 - 11:50AM

When you have ants in your house or apartment, it's gross and you usually have tons of them to deal with. But hey, at least they don't explode.

Unlike Colobopsis cylindrica, a group of Southeast Asian treetop ants known for their self-destructive tendencies. There are several different species that were previously thought to be part of this single group, and they have one thing in common: when their colony is in danger, they have a disgusting self-defense mechanism which involves rupturing their abdominal walls to splatter their opponents with a sticky, toxic goo. 

This kills the ant, but it also kills anything attacking the ant colony, and ants are nothing if not a social insect. Losing one ant to protect the colony is pretty par for the course with these little guys. The process is called "autothysis," a word which comes from the Greek roots for "self" and "sacrifice".

As mentioned before, there are several exploding ant species previously thought to belong to the single cylindrica group, but this is no longer the case. Despite being first discovered in 1935, there have been no other ant species found since then which were capable of this - to investigate, a group of researchers did a full survey of exploding ants and found that there were at least 15 separate exploding species all previously lumped together.

In particular, an entirely new species was recently uncovered in Borneo called, fittingly, Colobopsis explodens. Unlike other exploding ants, the researchers felt this was a model species due to how absolutely willing to kill itself by bursting out into a yellow goo, and will now be a model for future self-destructive ants.

The researchers noted that some of the explodens they were investigated actually blew up on the spot when they got too close.

Ants are a fairly smart species collectively, capable of highly advanced levels of organization and even medical assistance. That's part of why they're so difficult to get rid of when they set their sights on your bathroom floor. 

Just be thankful the most common ants don't blow themselves up, because that would only leave a bigger mess behind.