Nature & Environment
Termites explode to defend colonies
By T.K. Randall
July 28, 2012 · 16 comments
Image Credit: CC 3.0 Discott
Termites in the rainforests of French Guiana literally blow themselves up to help defend their peers.
Older worker termites grow a sack containing a blue toxic liquid which they will then explode on to encroaching enemies. This aspect of the insects' life cycle means that when a worker is too old to be effective they still perform a valuable final duty in the protection of their colony.
"Older individuals are not as effective at foraging and nest maintenance as younger workers," said study leader Robert Hanus. "It makes perfect sense to me because theories predict that social insects should perform low-risk, laborious tasks such as housekeeping in the first part of their life and risky tasks such as defence as they age."
A species of termite found in the rainforests of French Guiana takes altruism seriously: aged workers grow sacks of toxic blue liquid that they explode onto their enemies in an act of suicidal self-sacrifice to help their colonies.
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