Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Termite suicide bombers

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Fascinating—but does not the same situation exist for bees, who lose their sting and die in the defense of the hive? Hayley Dunning reports at The Scientist:

Famed biologist E.O. Wilson wrote that while humans send their young men to war, ants send their old ladies. As workers age in insect societies, they play a larger role in nest defense, and new research on a termite species has revealed a link between aging termites and the accumulation of toxic substances on their backs—which they can burst in an act of self-sacrifice when the colony is threatened.

“I think it is a great discovery and a nice combination of behavioral, morphological, and molecular biology,” said Olav Rueppell, who studies social insects at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and was not involved in the study, by email. “It demonstrates the power of kin selection and social evolution to create novel adaptations.”

Inspecting individuals of Neocapritermes taracua termites, which feed on and live in decaying wood, Robert Hanus of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic and colleagues noticed some workers had dark blue spots at the intersection of the thorax and abdomen. When faced with rivals of another termite species, these so-called “blue workers” actively bite their attackers until they are overpowered, at which point they burst their backs to expose the blue dots.

The blue dots, it turns out, are . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 July 2012 at 7:43 am

Posted in Science

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