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Termites become `suicidal terrorists` as they grow older

Last Updated: Friday, July 27, 2012 - 18:56

Washington: Old termites carry poison “backpacks” that can kill their enemies, but they also die in the fight, like suicidal terrorists, a new research has revealed.
According to Discovery News, the study was conducted by Jan Sobotnik of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic and colleagues and published in the latest issue of Science.

They studied neotropical termites of the species Neocapritermes taracua. The researchers found that many of the worker termites had blue spots where the insects’ thorax and abdomen met.

The size of the spots varied, and some workers didn’t have them at all. These pretty blue spots turned out to hold deadly poison. The poison consists of paired up copper-containing protein crystals. The crystals are activated when they come into contact with termite saliva.

When an attacking termite makes the unfortunate mistake of biting into one of these poison-toting termites, the poison spurts out, killing the carrier, the attacker and possibly others nearby.

“Because workers perform a variety of tasks, this readiness for suicidal defense would be expected to increase as their aptitude for other tasks declines,” the scientists suspected.

Their suspicion turned out to be correct. They discovered that as worker termites grew older and their mouthparts became duller, the weight of the crystals in their “backpacks” increased. While the senior termites’ feeding efficiency declined, the insects built up their armory for suicidal fighting.


First Published: Friday, July 27, 2012 - 18:56

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