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 Šobotník 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.
The team reported that the blue crystalline material is probably a hemocyanin protein (which has a similar function to hemoglobin in mammals, carrying oxygen around the bloodstream). The protein is rich in copper, which makes the crystal blue. Team member, PhD student Thomas Bourguignon of the Université Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium, said that the blue crystals mix with the products of the salivary gland and make them toxic. 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.
Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2012-07-aging-work ... s.html#jCp
The beginning of knowledge is the discovery of something we do not understand. - Frank Herbert
Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind. - Albert Einstein
Knowledge is a powerful weapon, but only when its user can wield it.