B1 Cover Story

The Exploding Insects of Our World

Nature has always had its own way of protecting itself. The squid shoots out black ink to make its getaway. A rose has thorns. The pufferfish blows itself into a ball of thorns to keep predators away. And then there are ants which have special powers!

Deep in the jungles of Borneo Island, high on the top of trees, live a group of ants with a special way to protect its group. They can explode!

This kind of ants are named Colobopsis explodens ants. They are sometimes called the “kamikaze ants”. They explode and shower toxic yellow goo on their enemies. Exploding ants are very unusual. The last time such ants were recorded was in 1916. They were found in Singapore.

There are only 16 kinds of exploding ants in the whole world. Since 1935, there has been no new kind of ants found. The last kind found were small, reddish ants which were found by Alice Laciny, an entomologist, together with her team.

When the ants face enemies which will not back away, the exploding ants will hold the enemy and bite down hard on it. They will then point their backsides to their attacker. Then they tighten their stomachs to the point where they will break their bodies into two. This will shoot out the dangerous yellow chemical kept inside their stomachs. Interestingly, Alice Laciny said the smell of the toxic yellow chemical resembles the smell of curry.

Not all the ants in this group can explode. Only the female workers who have no way to make babies can explode. This act of killing itself for the group is called autothysis. It is a very normal behaviour in superorganisms that work as a group. The needs of the group are more important than one ant’s needs.

The larger worker ants of this ant kind have oversized shaped heads. They would close up the nest’s entrance to stop enemies from entering. Their strange shaped heads are perfect for closing the entrance to their nest when the enemy comes. No matter how the enemies attack and bite them, their heads stay put. They would not move at all.

 

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getaway (n)– escape
special (adj) – better, greater, or otherwise different from what is usual
toxic (adj) – poisonous
entomologist (n) – a person who specialises in insects
resemble (v) – similar to, looks like
superorganism (n) – an organised society (as of the insect world) which functions as a one creature
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