3 min read

Newly Discovered Ant Can Actually Explode When She Gets Scared

She does it to protect her family.

In the jungle treetops of the Indonesian island of Borneo lives a fascinating and tiny creature willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to keep her friends and relatives safe — and scientists just discovered her. 

Exploding ant discovered in Borneo
The exploding ant in a defensive pose | Alexey Kopchinskiy/Mongabay

Now named Colobopsis explodens, this kind of tiny ant is one of several types of suicidal ants who get so protective of their colonies they actually rupture their own bodies so that they explode.

This newly discovered kind of self-destructive ant is different from others in that the toxic goo she produces when exploding, which helps ward off enemies, is a brighter shade of yellow and apparently has a "spicy" smell. 

“They explode when attacked by an enemy (or poked with a finger),” Alice Laciny, lead author of the study, which came out earlier this month, told CBC News. “The composition of the goo is currently under investigation, but it certainly contains sticky and toxic components.”

They also have tactics to protect the colony that don't involve total self-destruction. For instance, another worker ant (higher up the hierarchy) with an oddly shaped head stands guard by making a scary-looking face. 

New species of exploding ant discovered in Borneo
Heinz Wiesbauer/Mongabay

Scientists plan to continue to study this new kind of exploding ant to understand more about them — after all, researchers climbed all the way up to the treetops to be able to see them.

"The evolution of the explosion behavior and the diverse body types of the castes are amazing," Laciny said.

By the way, only the lowest worker ants in this particular caste system are expected to make the ultimate sacrifice for the good of the colony — go figure. 

Update: This article has been corrected to reflect the proper gender of the ants of the colony who actually explode; they are female workers.