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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Camponotus, the Exploding Ants

     Camponotus saundersi is a species of ant found in Malaysia and Brunei, belonging to the genus of Carpenter ants. Workers can explode as an ultimate act of defense. Autothysis is the term coined to describe their behavior. 
     Exploding like a suicide bomber is an effective defense and allows one smaller defender to take out a larger invader. The exploding ants of Borneo were first described by Ulrich Maschwitz in 1974. These amazing ants have a hair trigger...even when receiving a light touch with a pair of forceps exploded! When they exploded the body ruptured and a sticky yellow goo oozed out and glued their body to the forceps. 
     Recent investigations have determined that the mandibular gland, commonly used for digestive enzymes in most ants, is much larger in the exploding ants. The glands are abnormally large and extend into the abdomen. Other than their size and function, the glands are not unusual. Two oversized, poison-filled mandibular glands run the entire length of the ant's body. 
     When combat takes a turn for the worse, the worker ant violently contracts its abdominal muscles to rupture its gaster at the intersegmental fold, which also bursts the mandibular glands, thereby spraying a sticky secretion in all directions from the anterior region of its head. The glue, which also has corrosive properties and functions as a chemical irritant, can entangle and immobilize all nearby victims. 
     These ants are territorial and defend their nests from invaders of other ant species. Their territory hundreds of meters from the nest. 
     When exposed to ordinary ants in the laboratory, they would grasp the invader by the leg or antenna, press its body to the head of the invader and squeeze its abdomen until the abdomen exploded spilling their gluey guts over the eyes and mouth of the invader.
     Secretions range from bright white at the end of the wet season to cream or pale yellow in the dry season and start of the wet season. These variations in coloration represent a shift in internal pH, likely due to seasonal changes in diet.

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