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Exploding Ants: Beyond Creepy

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Nothing sends shivers up my spine like the sight of a swarming anthill. Thousands of those little buggers cover the land in a blanket of black and red, searching for food and trying to kill anything they touch. Even the thought makes me squirm and wish I had a can of ant poison in reach. But now, I’ve learned about a whole new breed of creepy ants: exploding ants.

Carpenter ant
A typical Carpenter Ant.

There are nine Southeast Asian species of ants which feature enlarged mandibular glands. These glands act like explosive biological packages, which the ant can willfully explode whenever it needs to defend its colony. The mandibular glands produce and store toxic chemicals that act like glue, so anything that comes in contact with the glue becomes immobilized and entangled. While humans are much too large to suffer from this immobilizing glue, other bugs and smaller critters can easily fall prey to the suicidal, explosive ants glue bomb.

As if these ants are not badass enough already, the glue is actually expelled out of its head boom! The explosion leaves the ants body ruptured and permanently broken, and they often become the first prey of their own glue bomb. The glue is designed so that a single ant can destroy numerous enemies. Where one ant falls, nearly a dozen others may fall with it.

Carpenter Ant
Try to picture its head exploding in a plume of glue.

I am no proponent for any living organism committing suicide, but I find it interesting that there are some species out there that use it as a natural defense. And ants are not the only ones that utilize a suicidal defense mechanism. There are some termite breeds out there that also rupture their bodies and expel a glue toxin on their enemies. This may be rather sadistic, but I would love to see some suicidal ants take on a bunch of suicidal termites. It’d be one explosive show.