BOOMZ, you know you know?


Camponotus saundersi“, by (Grand_Inquisitor). Suicide bomber ants. (accessed 29 March 2010)

It has been documented throughout human history that war demands self sacrifice for “the greater good” and this is most personified by the Kamikaze actions of the Japanese pilots during the Second World War. However, this also occurs in the animal world in an equally explosive fashion. Most would/should know that bees die after stinging in an attempt to defend the hive from enemies, however, certain species of ant also display this self sacrificial behaviour albeit with more ‘drama’.

Camponotus saundersi is a fairly common species of carpenter ants that build nests in dead wood. Interestingly, this species of ant displays autothysis – a term first coined by Maschwitz and Maschwitz which means the destruction of the animal (or insect) by internal rupturing [1]. By exploding, a mixture of chemicals is released that acts as both glue and (possibly) toxins [2] which ultimately kills the enemies in the ‘line of fire’. The ‘initiation’ for this act of altruism requires a contraction of the abdomen which then releases the contents [3]. It is this act that also earns them their nickname as ‘Kamikaze Ants’ or ‘walking chemical bombs‘.

I hope that the next time you think of ants, not only will “as hard working as an ant” come to mind but also “as self sacrificing as an ant”.


1 – Ulrich Maschwitz & Elenore Maschwitz (1973). Bursting Workers : A New Means of Detente
in Social Hymenoptera . Oecologia (Berl.) 14, 289–294 (1974)

2 – T.H Jones (2004). The Chemistry of Exploding Ants, Camponotus SPP. (cylindricus complex). Journal of Chemical Ecology Vol 30, No. 8, August 2004

3 – Emery, Carlo (1889). Viaggio di Leonardo Fea in Birmania e regioni vicine. XX. Formiche di Birmania e del Tenasserim raccolte da Leonardo Fea (1885-87). Annali del Museo Civico di Storia Naturale Giacomo Doria (Genova) 2 7(27): 485-520.