bizarre, insects

Exploding Termites

A species of rainforest termite makes the ultimate sacrifice to defend its home – these bugs blow themselves up. Self-destructing animals might sound like a B-rated sci-fi movie, but it is a reality when it comes to these termites (of the species Neocapritermes taracua) living in the French Guiana rainforests of South America.

Neocapritermes taracua termites explosive blow up explode
Older worker termites of the species Neocapritermes taracua have explosive blue pouches, as shown here in the top right and bottom right termites. (The larger termite on the top left is a soldier.) (Image credit: R. Hanus)

How do they explode? Each worker termite accumulates a blue, copper-containing substance over time, forming dark blue pouches on their back, between their thorax and abdomen. When the older “blue workers” try to fight off an enemy, it’s thought that they can blow themselves up by having the blue substance react with a fluid they secrete from their salivary glands. Workers without visible blue spots can also explode, but do much less damage, so it’s unclear how exactly the substance works.

As the termites’ mandibles become duller with age, they are less able to efficiently do many normal tasks, such as maintain nests and forage. The accumulation of the explosive blue substance on their backs may work as some type of trade off in nest responsibilities.

Just one more reason to be grateful to be a human – in this termite society, even the old, semi-retired individuals are expected to carry their weight, and die in defense of their home!

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