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Aging worker termites explode themselves in suicide missions

Posted: July 28, 2012 at 1:10 am

Blue and white workers of Neocapritermes taracua. The picture shows a soldier, two white workers (ww) and two blue workers (bw) with two blue spots between their thorax and abdomen. Image courtesy of R. Hanus

(Phys.org) — A new study of termites has revealed that older workers are equipped with suicide packs of chemicals on their backs to fight off intruders.

An international team of researchers, led by Robert Hanus and Jan obotnk of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic in Prague, looked at Neocapritermes taracua termites, native to French Guiana, and discovered that many of the workers had varying sizes of blue spots on their backs. The blue spots are external pouches containing copper-containing proteins secreted by specialized glands located on top of the salivary glands. When the researchers picked up the termites using forceps, they were surprised to find they burst, releasing a toxic sticky droplet along with fragments of intestines and internal organs.

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This movie shows one worker of Neocapritermes taracua rupturing its body after being attacked by workers of Embiratermes neotenicus. The worker emit a ball-like droplet of haemolymph (marked with the red arrow), together with a part of its internal organs, such as the intestine (visible as the dark spot). Before body rupture, a pair of blue crystals is easily distinguishable in the N. taracua worker, but these crystals rapidly dissolve in the droplet of haemolymph and disappear. Video courtesy of R. Hanus

The researchers found that when a worker with blue spots was attacked by invading termites, it ruptured its body wall, releasing the contents of the blue pouches, which mixed with salivary fluid to form a drop of chemical so toxic that it paralyzed or killed most of the invading termites that touched it. The blue-spotted worker termites died in the process. Workers with no spots also burst when threatened, but less readily and less effectively since the toxins released were much less potent than that from the blue spots.

Enlarge

Blue and white workers of Neocapritermes taracua. The picture shows two soldiers, two white workers (ww) and three blue workers (bw) with two blue spots between their thorax and abdomen. Image courtesy of R. Hanus

The study also demonstrated that the number and size of the blue pouches increased with the workers age. The workers capacity to do other work such as gathering food diminishes with age, and as they become less useful to the colony in other ways, and less able to defend the colony using their jaws, their capacity to act as suicidal defenders of the colony increases along with their willingness to sacrifice themselves.

Suicidal explosive behavior has been seen before in termites, but the contents of the intestine are usually expelled rather than toxins as found in the N. taracua termites, and the enemy termites are usually inconvenienced and slowed down rather than killed.

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Old Termites Can Become Suicidal Terrorists

Posted: at 1:10 am

In the insect world, it pays not to mess around with old termites because, when riled, they can become suicidal terrorists, according to new research.

The study, published in the latest issue of Science, shows how nature allows even weak, older individuals to fight back — although they don’t live to tell the tale later.

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Termites turn out to have something in common with human spies. In spy thriller movies, often the secret agent is captured, but “wins” in the end because he or she has a cyanide tablet hidden in the mouth. One chomp and the person is dead, killing all chances of the enemy getting secrets and the satisfaction of torture. (This really happened during World War II.)

Termites take it a step further, by bumping off not only themselves, but others around them.

Jan obotnikof the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic and colleagues 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.

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Termites Workers Become Suicide Bombers In Old Age

Posted: at 1:10 am

I hope you never have the unfortunate experience of owning a house thats infested with termites. The little buggers are hard to kill and they can eat through wood like nothing else. Need I mention that they are also pretty high on the Kill it with fire scale of terrifying insects. Well, it seems that scientists have found one more reason to be scared of the wood eaters.

Science Magazine is reporting that biologists in French Guiana have found that termites can explode. Its a purely defensive measure, but holy crap, termites will totally become suicide bombers if their nest is threatened. Thankfully, not all termits are lit up and ready to go. The termite must be old and must feature blue dots behind their head to initiate the explosion.

Fortunately, you dont have to worry about termits blowing up your house anytime soon. The explosion is actually pretty small and only serves to kill or knock out competing termite colonies or predators.

While the explosion is pretty awesome (and terrifying), its the chemical reaction that takes place that has scientists intrigued. As it turns outs, the blue dots in the termites head is a copper protein that reacts to salivary gland secretions to create a toxic substance. Not only are these termites exploding, but they also become a biological weapon in their own right.

The biologists note that warrior termites often do explode in defense of their nest, but the resulting explosion only creates a smelly fluid. This is the first time that they have observed worker termites exploding and creating toxins that kill potential threats.

Lucky for you, one of the biologists has uploaded video of the termite workers as they explode. Its really impressive, if somewhat gross. If you have any problems with watching icky bugs, you should probably avoid the video:

[Image Credit: ScienceMag]

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Exploding blue termites spew toxic goo in battle

Posted: at 1:10 am

(LiveScience) One species of termite sends its older workers on suicide missions armed with explosive blue “backpacks.”

When grabbed by another termite, a predator or a person with tweezers, these backpack-sporting termites, which the researchers call blue workers, rupture and spew a toxic, sticky substance, scientists have found.

The unfortunate workers from this species of tropical termite, Neocapritermes taracua, have two bluish spots visible on the backs of their abdomens. These spots contain crystals made of a copper-containing protein stored in two external “backpack” pouches, write the researchers.

The crystals react with the salivary gland secretions stored in their abdomens to create a droplet of toxic goo that can kill or paralyze worker termites from another species, Labiotermes labralis, an experiment revealed. [Video of Exploding Suicide Termites]

So-called white workers also have the salivary secretions but lack the blue crystals. These workers are less aggressive, slower to burst in battle and the substance they produce is not as effective against their enemies.

The researchers transplanted the crystals from blue workers onto white workers, and found the white workers became more deadly once they had the crystals.

They also determined that the blue workers were older by measuring the length of the edge of the termites’ mandibles. Termites chew on wood and as they age their mandibles wear down. The larger the blue crystals on a termite, the more blunt its mandibles, the researchers found.

Among social insects like termites, the practice of sending older workers into battle is common, researcher Yves Roisin of Universit Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium said in a podcast interview released by the journal Science, where this research is detailed.

“[Among] such insects of course the individual doesn’t really count or it counts by the work it can actually do for the colony, and when they are old and probably less efficient they are more likely to sacrifice themselves,” Roisin said.

However, the blue workers’ suicide gear is highly unusual in the world of insect warfare, because the combination of blue crystals and salivary secretions make it a two-component system, Roisin said, adding that it is also exceptional that one component (the crystals) is carried outside of the body.

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The termites are coming! The termites are coming!

Posted: July 11, 2012 at 7:11 am

The termites are coming! The termites are coming!

By Garth Haslem, ksl.com Contributor

July 10th, 2012 @ 9:14am

SALT LAKE CITY — In Utah and the United States, July is a time of remembering the quests and conquests that have marked our history. The Fourth of July marks the day of national independence, our separation from Britain, and reminds us of the price our ancestors have paid. One of these ancestor is Paul Revere a man known for his ride from town to town shouting, The redcoats are coming! His ride was certainly more dramatic and of greater importance than a warning about termites, but in both cases, we do have unwelcome visitors to the land we call home. Also in both cases, these uninvited invaders will destroy our homes if we allow it.

The end of the month is marked by another kind of quest: the pioneers in their long trek to find a place they could call home. Termites are looking for the same thing: your home. And theyre not coming theyre already here.

In the West?

Many are surprised to hear that the arid Mountain West has termites. While most know that termites are common in the more humid states like Florida, Texas, California and Hawaii, the rest of the United States has termites as well. In Utah, the most common type of termites are subterranean, meaning they have to live in the soil. To a termite, the soil can be a bedroom, but your home is the dining room. Its also the bathroom and they dont flush.

Troubles with termites

As a Utah home inspector, I have seen any number of homes with active and past termite colonies. In all cases, the problem includes water sources that are wet enough, long enough to keep an area wet. These are the conditions that allow a termite colony to survive. Some of these conditions occur because a sprinkler system sprays the home; sometimes the window frames dont seal adequately, resulting in water entry. This is exactly what termites are looking for: wet wood.

A personal friend had a leak behind his shower wall. The moisture in that wall meant termites all over a condition that draws termites like moths to a flame. The queen found her way through the basement back door, through the walls and right up to the wet shower wall, which must have smelled like termite pizza she certainly made a meal of his wall. Thousands of termite offspring later, his wife came face to face with a few hundred termite workers, and things started to get ugly.

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The termites are coming! The termites are coming!

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South Sudan Archivists Battle Rats, Termites, Time

Posted: July 6, 2012 at 11:10 pm

JUBA, South Sudan As South Sudan approaches its first anniversary as a nation next week, officials are working on creating an archive to begin defining the nations history of struggle for independence.

In a steaming hot tent in South Sudans capital, papers that have survived rats, termites and almost five decades of civil war burst out of overstuffed sacks and litter the floor between mountains of files that contain a new nations entire history.

Archivist Yusef Fulgensio Onyalla heads a team tasked with turning these documents and shards of paper into archives. They cover everything from maps and constitutions to cases of suspected witchcraft and the magazine subscriptions of former British rulers.

He is determined to preserve the history of South Sudan. The country split from the north last July after almost 50 years of civil war that killed some two million people and forced the population to fight or flee.

These documents are very important for us to write South Sudans history. Before the war, we were taught all Sudans history, but there is nothing specific about South Sudan, said Onayalla.

In 2007, two years after a peace deal ended the war, Onyalla led a team to rescue hidden documents found in places like dank basements and damaged by bats, cockroaches and rain.

What was salvageable is now housed in a large white tent — donated by the U.S government — and sitting next to one of the capital Jubas busiest streets. It was meant to be a temporary storage place, but these historical documents continue to suffer because of a lack of funding and the political will to go through them.

A lot of deterioration happened like you can see here. There were some files here and some termites attacked them and then we brought the spray to kill the termites and we lost a lot of important documents, Onyalla noted. “Where termites once munched, nesting rats are now shredding.”

It is a race against time before creatures and climate swallow South Sudans past. These papers are becoming increasingly important, as the new nation battles Sudan about unresolved issues of disputed territory and oil-rich borders that, in its first year of statehood, briefly took the new nation back to war.

Onyalla says that maps have been found this year that show the boundaries of southern districts — documents that the government hopes might help it win its case about land claims at arbitration if talks with Khartoum dont succeed.

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How Anteaters Decide What To Eat

Posted: June 28, 2012 at 6:17 pm

The Giant Anteater, Myrmecophaga tridactyla, only eats ants and termites, as its name suggests. Since the giant anteater and its evolutionary ancestors have been feasting on ants and termites for nearly 60 million years, a researcher named Kent Redford hypothesized that, over time, ants and termites may have evolved various defenses to avoid predation. In other words, there may have been a co-evolution between the feeding preferences of anteaters and the defenses of their prey. To investigate this question, in 1984, Redford went to Brazil to study a group of anteaters at the Brasilia Zoo, as well as in the wild at Emas National Park.

Ants and termites are highly social critters, and their social structure consists of three main groups: the reproductive, the worker, and the soldier castes. The defenses of the soldier castes in termites and ants vary from entirely chemically based, in which they secrete toxic or repellent chemicals, to the fully mechanical, in which they use their mandibles to pierce the skin of the attacker, and occasionally to draw blood. Redford hypothesized that the foraging behavior of the anteaters would vary according to the type of defense behavior employed by the soldier castes of the ant and termite colonies on which they fed.

The first part of the study was conducted with the help of three giant anteaters that were kept at the Brasilia Zoo. Two shallow trays were placed before the anteaters, each of which contained broken up pieces of a termite mound. Each tray, therefore, contained thousands of living and active termites, of one of eight possible species: Grigiotermes metoecus, Armitermes euamignathus, Cornitermes cumulans, Cortaritermes silvestri, Nasutitermes, Procorniterrnes araujoi, Velocitermes paucipilis, and Orthognathotermes gibberorum. Each individual anteater was tested with all possible two-way combinations to determine their overall preferences.

The researchers recorded the sequence in which the individuals ate the different species, as well as the number of times the anteater sniffed but did not snack on a particular species. Since it was impossible to quantify the number of termites eaten, they recorded the duration of each feeding session as well, for each termite species. The anteaters foraging behaviors were compared with three termite variables: the size of the termites, their nutritional value, and the type of defensive system that they used (chemical or mechanical).

The anteaters did not feed on the different species equally. In 24 of the 28 two-way comparisons, there were clear preferences for one termite species over the other, and all three individual anteaters showed the same preferences. The two tastiest termite species were Cornitermes and Procornitermes.

Salvidor Dali walks his pet anteater. (Unknown source)

These findings alone suggest that the anteaters are making explicit foraging decisions, instead of opportunistically dining on whatever critters are around. Redford wanted to know, however, how do the anteaters decide which species to eat? How do anteaters make their decisions?

Prey size did not correlate significantly with feeding decisions, nor did the nutritional value of the prey. Both of those possibilities were easily ruled out. The percentage of the colony that comprised the soldier caste was not correlated with feeding decisions, either. Nor was the aggressiveness of the termite soldiers. Despite their clear preferences, Redford was unable to determine the variables that were behind those preferences.

Perhaps wild anteaters could provide some clues.

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How Anteaters Decide What To Eat

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Termites eat through £32,000 in woman's safe in Taiwan

Posted: at 6:17 pm

Money-saver scrimps and saves for eight years to study abroad She discovered the insects had munched their way through the notes

By Chris Murphy

PUBLISHED: 04:53 EST, 27 June 2012 | UPDATED: 02:54 EST, 28 June 2012

If you thought the NatWest fiasco was bad, spare a thought for this money saver.

While millions of customers of the beleaguered bank had their accounts frozen, one woman was faced with her money disappearing altogether.

The culprit? Hordes of hungry termites.

Tiny terrors: The termites munched their way through more than 32,000 in cash after getting into a woman’s safe

The Taiwanese woman’s safe might well have been blast and fire proof, but it could not protect her money from the insects.

The tiny creatures somehow got into her safe and munched their way through 32,700 in cash.

She had spent eight years saving the money so she could study abroad.

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2. Undergrad's life savings of RM106,000 lost to termites

Posted: at 5:15 am

A TAIWANESE undergraduate who kept her entire savings in a safe at home because she did not trust banks found her NT$1mil (RM106,600) in notes eaten by termites, reported Nanyang Siang Pau.

The woman, who only wished to be known as Chen, said she had saved the money since young for her studies overseas.

It was money from my ang pow, pocket money and earnings from doing part-time jobs. I always opened the safe and counted the money, she said.

However, Chen said when she opened the safe last month, she found only pieces of the banknotes in it.

They were all eaten by termites, she said.

She sought help from an expert in the police force, who helped her tape the pieces of banknotes together.

However, Chen only managed to recover 2% of her savings, about NT$20,000 (RM2,132).

> Most Chinese newspapers also reported about two fathers in Johor who complained that their sons were excessively punished by their teachers.

Businessman Tan Yew Heng claimed that his 11-year-son had nine marks on his back, face, arms and body after a teacher caned him.

He knew he was in the wrong but the teacher shouldn’t have caned him until he bled, said Tan, 36.

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Undergrad's life savings of $42,980 lost to termites

Posted: at 5:15 am

The Star/Asia News Network Thursday, Jun 28, 2012

A TAIWANESE undergraduate who kept her entire savings in a safe at home because she did not trust banks found her NT$1mil (S$42,980) in notes eaten by termites, reported Nanyang Siang Pau.

The woman, who only wished to be known as Chen, said she had saved the money since young for her studies overseas.

“It was money from my ang pow, pocket money and earnings from doing part-time jobs. I always opened the safe and counted the money,” she said.

However, Chen said when she opened the safe last month, she found only pieces of the banknotes in it.

“They were all eaten by termites,” she said.

She sought help from an expert in the police force, who helped her tape the pieces of banknotes together.

However, Chen only managed to recover 2 per cent of her savings, about NT$20,000 (S$859).

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