One species of termite sends its older workers on suicide missions armed with explosive blue "backpacks."
When grabbed by another termite, a predator or a person with tweezers, these backpack-sporting termites, which the researchers call blue workers, rupture and spew a toxic, sticky substance, scientists have found.
The unfortunate workers from this species of tropical termite, Neocapritermes taracua, have two bluish spots visible on the backs of their abdomens. These spots contain crystals made of a copper-containing protein stored in two external "backpack" pouches, write the researchers.
The picture shows a soldier, two white workers and two blue workers of the termite species Neocapritermes taracua. The two bluish spots high on the back of the abdomen of the two blue workers contain crystals, a crucial part of their suicide weaponry.
The crystals react with the salivary gland secretions stored in their abdomens to create a droplet of toxic goo that can kill or paralyze worker termites from another species, Labiotermes labralis, an experiment revealed.
So-called white workers also have the salivary secretions but lack the blue crystals. These workers are less aggressive, slower to burst in battle and the substance they produce is not as effective against their enemies.
The researchers transplanted the crystals from blue workers onto white workers, and found the white workers became more deadly once they had the crystals.
They also determined that the blue workers were older by measuring the length of the edge of the termites’ mandibles. Termites chew on wood and as they age their mandibles wear down. The larger the blue crystals on a termite, the more blunt its mandibles, the researchers found.
Among social insects like termites, the practice of sending older workers into battle is common, researcher Yves Roisin of Université Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium said in a podcast interview released by the journal Science, where this research is detailed.
"[Among] such insects of course the individual doesn’t really count or it counts by the work it can actually do for the colony, and when they are old and probably less efficient they are more likely to sacrifice themselves," Roisin said.
However, the blue workers’ suicide gear is highly unusual in the world of insect warfare, because the combination of blue crystals and salivary secretions make it a two-component system, Roisin said, adding that it is also exceptional that one component (the crystals) is carried outside of the body.
So far, the researchers have seen this behavior in this species only, but they hope to see if its relatives do something similar, he said.
Pressure from the United Patriots Front Stops Mosque Plan 2016-04-28 20:10
Pressure from the United Patriots Front appears to have killed off a mosque development in Narre Warren North.
The City of Casey council now looks likely to withhold planning approval for the development in a special meeting set for Tuesday night.
A council report, to be considered by councillors on Tuesday, recommends that the approval be blocked.
The mosque opponents’ cause has been helped by councillor ...
Police face questions over the influence of the Freemasons 2016-04-28 20:48
South Yorkshire Police today face questions over whether powerful 'secret society' the Freemasons held sway over the force at the time of Hillsborough.
Families of victims say that officers who were Masons were promoted into powerful positions despite being ill-equipped, including match commander David Duckenfield.
Duckenfield told the fresh inquests he had been a Freemason since 1975 and became head of his ...
England Bans its Own Flag to Avoid Offending Muslims 2016-04-27 2:23 St. George's Cross "racist" towards immigrants
Government officials said their city was ‘too multicultural’ to celebrate St George’s Day, England’s version of the 4th of July.
The council said that displaying the English flag may have been seen as “racist” towards immigrants.
Half of Western European men descended from one Bronze Age ‘king’ 2016-04-27 2:09
Half of Western European men are descended from one Bronze Age ‘king’ who sired a dynasty of elite nobles which spread throughout Europe, a new study has shown.
The monarch, who lived around 4,000 years ago, is likely to have been one of the earliest chieftains to take power in the continent.
He was part of a new order which emerged in ...
"Local Residents" Are Filmed Stealing Dozens of Bottles of Water at London Marathon Stop 2016-04-25 23:10
Editor's Comment: "Local" residents? Why bother blurring their faces? We know who they are.
London marathon runners were robbed of dozens of bottled waters when thieves raided a refreshment area armed with trolleys during today's race.
Nearby residents - including parents with children - were captured on camera piling up crates of free water handed out by volunteers during the 26-mile event.