Popular Science

Four intense ways insects sacrifice themselves for the good of the colony

When the going gets tough, the tough self-destruct.
a group of ants

Exploding ants attack a weaver ant.

Alexey Kopchinskiy, TU Vienna

In the rainforests of Borneo, there lives a reddish brown ant by the name of Colobopsis explodens that really knows how to go out with a bang. When locked in battle with ants from another colony, C. explodens workers bring the fight to a swift end by ripping themselves open and spewing noxious fluid on the enemy. The workers die while pulling off this power move, but their sacrifice protects the rest of the colony from marauding predators like the weaver ant.

This is not typical animal behavior. Most creatures behave in ways that give themselves the best shot of surviving and passing their genes on to their own offspring. The workers of C. explodens achieve neither of these things by self-destructing—yet they aren’t the only insect to do it. They belong to a group called exploding ants that are found across Southeast Asia. And self-sacrifice shows up among a number of insects that live together in colonies including other ants, termites, bees, and certain aphids.

“One small worker does probably not cost very much to lose, but at the same time the benefits of deterring an intruder such as a big vertebrate predator

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