As Hannah Ellis-Peterson points out in the Guardian, the ants' suicidal altruism, formally known as autothysis, is not unheard of among insect species that live in large colonies and work closely together to ensure the success of group.
The small reddish-brown ants look like any other ant.
Exploding ants were first described in the scientific literature over a century ago, but the myriad challenges of tracking and studying ants in the rainforest meant that the species couldn't be studied in more precise detail until a few years ago, according to lead researcher Alice Laciny, an entomologist with the Natural History Museum in Vienna, Austria.
As tiny critters surrounded by big threats, ants have evolved a number of unique ways to protect themselves: they bite, they sting, they fling themselves to safety. The researchers published their findings this week in the ZooKeys journal.
Laciny described the bright goo as having "a distinct and not unpleasant smell that's strangely reminiscent of curry".
Because these odd and remarkable creatures have not been well studied, an interdisciplinary team from Austria, Thailand and Brunei came together in 2014 to classify different species of exploding ants. The ant doesn't literally explode in a Michael Bay sort of way, but the desperate measure causes a sticky and toxic liquid to pour out from its bloated glands - a noxious substance that's capable of killing the intruder. Early descriptions of them date back to as early as 1798.
When attacked, individual ants "explode", releasing their toxic, yellow guts all over their invader while locked in one-on-one combat, according to a new study.
However, the ant's act of self-sacrifice isn't reserved for anyone. The ants need to "really be provoked", she said. The Colobopsis explodens rips itself apart for only the most threatening of predators. They were found to be "particularly prone to self-sacrifice" as a defence and would even detonate when the intruding researchers approached. Scientists say just "minor workers", including all sterile females, are blessed with the capability, while the remaining members offer up other defensive tricks.
Furthermore, this incredible characteristic isn't mainstream throughout the ant's species.
If enemies survive the first line of defense, they will come face-to-face with the colony's major workers and their enlarged, plug-shaped heads, researchers wrote.