Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Termites- Living Bombs

When the insects can no longer forage, nature weaponizes them

What are your plans for retirement? Do you plan on touring the country in an RV with the grandkids, or perhaps finally catch up with all that paragliding you never did when you were younger? Perhaps you should just be glad that you'll age more gracefully than the Neocapriterme taracua — as the termite enters its old age, it becomes a toxic, living bomb, ready to explode at a moment's notice.
The discovery came when researchers Jan Å obotník of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic and Thomas Bourguignon of the Free University of Brussels were examining termites in French Guiana. They noted that select termites had pale blue spots on their abdomens. When disturbed and unable to fight using their jaws, the insects commit suicide and burst, releasing a mix of chemicals that can poison and kill their attackers.
It's believed those blue spots are actually crystals that help give the termites' toxic stew its potency. Only older termites have the crystals — essentially, when the insect gets too old to forage for food, it turns into a living defensive weapon for the insect colony. Pretty cool, but if given the option, we think we'll stick to our RV tour when we grow old, thanks.
[Image credit: Soldier subterranean termites via Shutterstock]
This article was written by Fox Van Allen and originally appeared on Tecca