Self-destructing Carpenter Ants

exploding ant

Photo by Noel Tawatao, courtesy of

I don’t think I’m alone when I say that I dislike ants. I think my personal revulsion stems from the time when I was about ten years old that I found a few dozen of them that had invaded our maple syrup bottle. Somehow nothing puts you off your breakfast quite like ants with your pancakes.

Exploding Ants

Nevertheless, it’s hard not to be impressed by the capabilities of certain Southeast Asian varieties of carpenter ants.  While most carpenter ants content themselves with hollowing out tunnels in moist, rotting wood, nine species carpenter ants native to Southeast Asia, including Camponotus saundersi, can actually make themselves explode!

These ants have unusually large mandibular glands that extend throughout the length of their bodies, and these glands store a toxic, glue-like substance. When these ants are attacked, they grab on to their enemies, and squeeze their own bodies. As a result, they explode, raining deadly venom upon both themselves and their attackers, and gluing the two together. These ants require very little pressure in order to explode; scientists have even set them off by merely touching them lightly.

What Makes an Ant Explode?

These varieties of carpenter ants explode, not only to kill their attackers, but also to protect foraging territory, even when that territory is hundreds of meters from their nests. Fortunately, while the chemicals that the ants release are often fatal to other insects, they have little effect upon humans, who are too large in comparison to be harmed.

While I still want to keep ants out of my house, I have to say that I’m fascinated that some of them have such remarkable defense mechanisms!

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