For humans, passing gas in the company of others is often painfully embarrassing. But for some insects, the act of passing gas can be deadly. Although embarrassing in some situations, it is necessary for humans to expel digestive gases that build up within the gastrointestinal system, but beyond that, passing gas serves no other purpose. This is not the case for the Lomamyia latipennis species of lacewing, which passess gas as a form of attack against their termite prey. This species belongs to a group of lacewings that are commonly known as beaded lacewings. Much like termites, these specialized predators can be found on every continent in the world except for Antarctica.
The adults of this lacewing species lay their eggs on or near infested wood containing termite nests, and some sources claim that lacewings also lay eggs on termite mounds. The larvae that hatch from these eggs have adapted sensory abilities that allow them to rapidly locate nearby termite prey. Upon locating a termite, a lacewing larva will aim its tail upright in front of a termite’s face in order to overwhelm the insect with toxic digestive gas emitted from its rear end. Surprisingly, the clueless termite prey typically remains inactive during the larva’s posturing, as it makes no attempt to escape the deadly gas about to come its way. Of course, considering how strange this posturing must appear, termites cannot be blamed for staring in confusion during this process. In fact, shortly before being rendered immobile by the toxic fumes, the termite victim remains still even when surrounded by the deadly gas. This is partly due to the fact that the release of this digestive gas does not produce any sound that could scare the termite away. In no other instance is the phrase, “silent but deadly” more appropriate.
Within three minutes, the toxic gas paralyzes the termite before eventually killing the wood-devouring insect. Most of the time, however, before the gas becomes fatal, a beaded lacewing larva will liquify the paralyzed termite with corrosive enzymes in order to suck it up with its mouthparts. Scientists who have observed this process have noted that in cases when the paralyzed termite goes uneaten, it dies within a period of three hours as a result of being exposed to the toxic fumes. Research shows that the digestive lacewing gas has a toxic effect on termites only, as the gas contains a potent allomone. Allomones are chemicals that alter termite behavior. Researchers have yet to understand what makes the allomone in lacewing farts deadly to termites.
Do you believe that you may have heard the sound of an insect passing gas?