Friday, October 25, 2013

Selfless Ants: how elderly termites defend their colony by sacrificing their lives

The elderly people are very important to our society. They posses a lot of knowledge which they pass to the younger generation. The younger people protect our seniors carefully.
But ants have a different way of life. Here, the elderly ants protect the younger ones. It is the old that take the more risky tasks, such as gathering food from faraway places.
Now, scientists have found a remarkable behavior in some types of ants and termites. The elderly actually explode themselves like a bomb in battle with predators.
These type of termites grow a sack of toxin on the back throughout their life. By the time they are old, the sacks become sizable. When enemy attacks, these senior termites are at the forefront. Their sacks burst while fighting, spilling the toxin and killing a lot of enemies.
This is an extreme example of sacrifice. But the study of social insects- like ants, bees, termites- can tell us about many such examples of selflessness. The key to this behavior is hidden in the peculiar genetics of these insects. But more on that some other time.

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