Quirks and Quarks

Kamikaze ants blow themselves up and cover their victims with killer slime

When this ant is threatened by another species it explodes and releases a toxic substance that kills its attacker
When threatened, the Colobopsis explodens ant raises its tail section as it prepares to explode and die, releasing a toxic liquid to kill its attacker. (Alexey Kopchinskiy)

The ant

The ant  - called  Colobopsis explodens - as aptly named because when it is threatened, it explodes in an act of self-sacrifice, and releases a toxic goo that also kills the attacker.  They are found all over southeast Asia, including Borneo, where the study, led by Alice Laciny from the Natural History Museum in Vienna, Austria, took place. These ants live in the canopy of the rain forest where they are often as high up in the trees as 50 to 60 metres. There are 15 known species in this group that have this ability to explode. 

How it explodes

The ants in this group that explode are the minor workers. When the threat is present and they are poised to explode they walk around with their tail section raised in the air, much like a skunk as it prepares to spray. The ants then contract a particular muscle until the pressure becomes so great, an enlarged gland that holds the liquid is ripped open and the body wall erupts.   

The toxic goo

The composition of the explosive liquid is the subject of on-going study, but it is known to contain some anti-bacterial elements, as well as a variety of toxins. If the attacking ant ingests the toxin, it is killed immediately. But the sticky toxic goo may also just cover the attacker until it is completely immobilized until it dies. Often the dead Colobopsis explodens ant remains stuck to its attacker.