Brevia

Explosive Backpacks in Old Termite Workers

Science  27 Jul 2012:
Vol. 337, Issue 6093, pp. 436
DOI: 10.1126/science.1219129

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Abstract

By nature, defensive behavior is risky. In social insects, such behavior is more likely to occur in individuals whose potential for other tasks is diminished. We show that workers of the termite Neocapritermes taracua develop an exceptional two-component suicidal apparatus consisting of copper-containing protein crystals, stored in external pouches, and internal salivary glands. During aggressive encounters, their bodies rupture, and the crystals react with the salivary gland secretion to produce a toxic droplet. Both the amount of defensive substances and the readiness to explode increase with workers’ age, as their food-collecting ability declines.

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