Being Useful In Old Age By Exploding Into Action

Being useful in old age by exploding into action is a tack taken by the worker caste of termites of the Neocarpritermes taracua persuasion. Termites are social insects and have a soldier caste of big girls with big mandibles to ward off invaders and keep the colony safe and allow the workers go about their business collecting food, bringing up larvae, and keeping the place tidy.

In the end, we all get old and termite workers do too.  Šobotnik et al have just published a study of N taracua from their work in French Guiana. They noticed that the old workers were showing their age not by wrinkles or gravity taking over, but by little blue pouches showing up on their backs. These aren’t just age spots, though. They are copper-protein crystals forming in little backpacks.

Blue backpacks have a purpose. These oldies march to the fore to help the soldiers deter invaders. When they reach the front line, the grab an invader and become a suicide bomber by exploding. Other termite species explode too, but these are special.
The explosions mix the contents of the backpacks with the contents of the salivary glands. Now this two-part mix doesn’t just produce a sticky goo, but turns it into a deadly toxic killer goo.

The older they get, the more deadly they become. Need to watch out for those oldies, especially if you plan a hostile takeover of an adjacent termite enterprise.


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