Termites Fight with Toxic Suicide Weapons
2012-08-07 0:00

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

41% of Americans Support Criminalizing "Hate Speech"
2015-05-23 7:31
The following are from a recent poll about what some are calling on for "hate speech" 1. Support for Hate Crimes Legislation Do you support or oppose the federal law that requires increased penalties for hate crimes committed on the basis of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, or gender of any person? 2. Support for Expanding Hate Crimes Do ...
FBI Admits No Major Cases Cracked with Patriot Act Snooping Powers
2015-05-23 7:36
FBI agents can’t point to any major terrorism cases they’ve cracked thanks to the key snooping powers in the Patriot Act, the Justice Department’s inspector general said in a report Thursday that could complicate efforts to keep key parts of the law operating. Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz said that between 2004 and 2009, the FBI tripled its use of bulk ...
Sweetener Stevia Was Once Hailed As An Anti-Fertility Agent for Population Reduction
2015-05-23 7:13
Maybe it's not so sweet now... If you've thought stevia, the natural alternative to sugar and artificial sweetners with aspartame, et al., is too good to be true, there may be a catch. Check out this textbook written in 1970 by Paul and Anne Ehrlich, the precursor to the textbook Ecoscience they wrote with Obama Science Czar John P. Holdren ...
TPP Aproved: Senate Republicans Give Obama New Powers - Details Remain 'Classified'
2015-05-23 6:43
President Obama won a big victory for his trade agenda Friday with the Senate’s approval of fast-track legislation that could make it easier for him to complete a wide-ranging trade deal that would include 11 Pacific Rim nations. A coalition of 48 Senate Republicans and 14 Democrats voted for Trade Promotion Authority late Friday, sending the legislation to a difficult fight ...
Circumcision battle: Mom seeks release from jail after federal lawsuit is dismissed
2015-05-23 3:22
West Boynton mother on Wednesday gave up trying to get a federal judge to stop her 4 1/2-year-old son from being circumcised as his father wishes — a battle that also led to her arrest May 14 on a state court warrant. An attorney for Heather Hironimus, who lost similar legal challenges in two state courts, notified U.S. District Judge Kenneth ...
More News »