Photo Shows Suicide Bomber Ant Self-Detonating

//

 

Terrorism doesn't just exist among humans, according to ecologist Mark Moffett, and he has the photos to prove it.

In his new book Adventures Among Ants

(University of California Press, 2010), Moffett describes- and shows- how some ants will commit suicide in a very dramatic way while taking others out with them.

WATCH VIDEO: The same ants that use dirt particles as natural GPS units are caught on video raiding a termite mound.

SEE ALSO: Poison-Taster Ants Help Save Colonies

Moffett told me that in this photo, "the reddish worker cylindricus ant has detonated — rupturing her body to release a

toxic yellow glue that kills her and the enemy instantly."

Just before this picture was snapped in Borneo, Moffett had set a trap at the base of a tree colonized by cylindricus ants. The trap was simply some honey that he drizzled around the tree trunk.

He describes what happened next:

"After an hour, weaver ants along with another

species of carpenter ant located the bait and started arriving at the

cylindricus-occupied tree. One of them started up the trunk, but then

came down again. That one would live another day. Another climbed a bit

higher and attempted to walk by a cylindricus minor worker. Just as I

clicked the shutter there was a splash of yellow, and both ants were

immobilized in a sticky, grotesque tableau."

TEST YOUR ANT SMARTS: Take this quiz!

In his book, Moffett describes yet another species of cylindricus ant that includes "living doors." The major worker's head flattens into a disc, he explains, "enabling her to serve as a living door to nests

in hollow branches. She allows her nestmates inside only after they

identify themselves by tapping the blockading disc with their antennae."

SEE ALSO: Tiny Insect Brains Solve Big Problems

When he tried to grab a minor worker that was climbing the tree trunk, an additional protective measure took place. He said the "ant's leg fell away in my hand, in much the way that a lizard will lose its tail."

Moffett also describes a Brazilian species, Forelius

pusillus, that kills entire ant nests at a time. 

"Up to

eight sacrificial individuals stay outside at night to seal the entrance

with sand, kicking the final grains in place until no trace of the hole

is visible. Walled off from their sisters, by dawn almost all are dead,

for reasons unknown—perhaps the squad consists of the old or sick. The

ants in the nest then clear the passage to begin the day’s foraging.

That night, more victims seal the door."

To understand such behavior, Moffett suggests that we think of an ant colony like a single organism. Cutting off a "minor" part may help to save the colony as a whole. "The larger the colony, the less consequential the casualty," he said.

SEE ALSO: Insects Actively Surf the Wind

"Such extremism in handling risk is

an example of how death without reproduction can be of service to

queen and colony, and a reminder that anything humans concoct—even

suicide missions and terrorism—probably has a parallel in nature."

Could it be that the ever-ballooning human population means more terrorism and warfare are in our future?

No one knows for certain, but as Moffett ominously points out, the bigger a population becomes, the more it can take large-scale risks, "given

that losing 10 percent of an army will be more devastating for a society

of ten than for one of a million."

Planet Green: Take a look at this slide show of some amazing images of insects up close and really, really personal. It may make you think twice before stepping on the next bug you encounter.

DISCOVERYnewsletter
 
Invalid Email