Apr 22, 2009

Blood-sucking, Flying, and Marching Ants

Wesley forwarded this article from the mental floss blog. It's a tale of six fascinating ant species. I'll bring you three of them.

First we have a Madagascar specimen called the Dracula ant (Adetomyrma sp.). But I don't think Dracula did anything quite like these ants. You see, they feed on the blood of their own larvae. Here's how it goes: the larvae are larger than the adults. The adults bring corpses of fallen insects back to the colony, which they feed to the larvae. The larvae in turn digest the offerings and secrete the protein in liquid form, which the adults live off of.

I've seen human variations on this same behavior, where the parents have raised their kids to be dairy cows, or some sort of host upon which to feed.

Next we have Gliding Ants (Cephalotes atratus), from the rain forests of South America. They've developed a form of gliding, not unlike the ability found in flying squirrels, that allows them to fall from a tree branch and glide back to the tree to land on its trunk. That way they can quickly make their way down the tree without having to land on the ground, where they'd make easy prey for would-be ant predators.

Photo source: Myrmecos.net

Every decent parents makes significant sacrifices for their children. But few make sacrifices like New World Army Ants (Eciton burchelli). These Central and South American ants march across the rain forest floor in a ponderous and inexorable march, devouring as they go. Humans can usually avoid them by simply sidestepping their path (those caught in the ants' path have been known to be killed by asphyxiation caused by countless bites). The behavior of the marching colony (yes, the entire colony marches) is directed by the larvae. These larvae (once again, the larvae featuring so prominent in ants), emit pheromones that incite the colony to swarm in search of food:

When the larvae are mature and turn into pupae, they stop producing the pheromone, and the army settles down to form a nest using their own bodies as building material. While the pupae mature, the queen busies herself laying new eggs. When new ants emerge from the pupae, the eggs turn to larval form and produce more pheromones, meaning it is time to march off for food.

See what you get when you put the kids in charge?


Yvonne Navarro said...

Yikes. Those don't look like mandibles. They look like grappling hooks!

onionpencil said...

am i the only one who thinks the vampire ants look like a designer thought them up? long sleek shiny bods, and the larvae look like paisley with their lil curled shapes.

Anonymous said...

I think most ants are like this--the adults' throats can't pass anything but liquid. All the food they gather is fed to the larvae, who secrete a liquid that the adults eat.

Jack Ruttan said...

The larva look like gummies.