Termites Fight with Toxic Suicide Weapons
2012 08 07

By Wynne Parry | LiveScience.com

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.

[...]

Read the full article at: livescience.com










Related Articles
Carnivorous plants employ services of bodyguard ants
How many ants exist on earth?
Amazonian ants make males redundant to become world’s first all-female species
Another suspect in bee colony deaths found - a parasitic mite that spreads viruses while feeding on the insects’ ’blood’
In Missouri, Insect Ice Cream Flies Off the Shelf
Insects better meat than cows: researchers
The Stunning Pictures of Sleeping Insects Covered in Water Droplets
Insects Use Plants Like A Telephone


Latest News from our Front Page

Recent Israeli Synagogue Attack, a Possible False Flag?
2014 11 21
Dear Friends - I woke up yesterday morning to see a newspaper lying on the kitchen table with the front page proclaiming that five people were slain in an Israeli synagogue after a so-called "Palestinian attack." Some members of the media said that four people were killed, others said five, so it seems like that there was some confusion (or ...
The Michael Brown Shooting, Race Baiting for Political Power and Militarization of the Police
2014 11 21
From Youtube: The evidence clearly shows that Officer Darren Wilson was justified in shooting Michael Brown, so why is this case being hyped by the mainstream media and the leftist political establishment?
Detekt: A New Malware Detection Tool That Can Expose Illegitimate State Surveillance
2014 11 21
Recent years have seen a boom in the adoption of surveillance technology by governments around the world, including spyware that provides its purchasers the unchecked ability to target remote Internet users’ computers, to read their personal emails, listen in on private audio calls, record keystrokes and passwords, and remotely activate their computer’s camera or microphone. EFF, together with Amnesty International, ...
New UK spy chief says tech giants aid terrorism, privacy not ‘absolute right’
2014 11 21
Robert Hannigan, the new head of GCHQ The new head of Britain’s GCHQ, the UK equivalent of the NSA in the U.S., said he believes privacy is not an absolute right and that tech giants must open themselves up to intelligence agencies. “GCHQ is happy to be part of a mature debate on privacy in the digital age,” Hannigan said. “But privacy ...
LOL: Atheist Feminist Pornographer Used as Moral Authority in T-shirt Row
2014 11 21
Dr. Matt Taylor was thrust into the headlines this last week, largely for his lead role in successfully landing a spacecraft on a comet 300 million miles from earth that travels at a speed of 85,000 mph. In short, Taylor and his colleagues pulled off one of the most amazing achievements in contemporary science and space exploration, and in a ...
More News »