The ants most people come eye-to-eye with are pretty unremarkable. These are the tiny, black crawlers commonly found in our cabinets searching for food and around homes building mounds, but countless species of ants have wildly unique features made for survival. Here are six behaviors and characteristics of several species you must see to believe.
While we’re accustomed to seeing ants make their homes in towering mounds of sand in our yards, they also take to the sky for shelter. Just take the Oecophylla genus of ants also called “weaver ants.” The skilled nest builders reside on trees in nests pieced together with leaves and silk obtained from their larvae. Using their mandibles to cut and organize leaves in a cylindrical shape, these ants carry their larvae around and gently squeeze them to secrete silk like a hot glue gun that binds the pieces together. Weaver ants are found in Africa, Australia, India and Southwest Asia.
Much like humans farm crops to produce food, some ant species do the same. There are several ant species that farm fungi as a food source. Yes, instead of raiding your pantry for their next meal, these ants work for their dinner by cultivating leaves, chewing them up into mulch, and using it to build a garden of nutritious fungi. While they aren’t exactly growing mushrooms, these ants can produce quite a substantial crop of fungus that sustains the colony and feeds the next generation.
4. Trap Jaws
The trap-jaw ant (Odontomachus bauri) is aptly named for its most discerning feature. This ant’s mandibles are quite formidable and can open to a 180-degree angle. In fact, this Central and South American resident holds the title of having the fastest snapping jaws in the animal kingdom. This little monster is carnivorous and can snap its jaws at prey like a mousetrap quicker than the blink of an eye and with great force. They’ve even been documented using their jaws to catapult themselves and escape from dangerous situations.
3. Door Heads
Soldiers in the Cephalotes genus of ants are heavily armored to provide adequate defense for a colony against predators, but they also have one other eye-catching feature. Their heads are flat and shaped like a drain stopper. These “door head” ants are polymorphic, meaning specific classes of the colony are outfitted with unique features to serve a particular purpose. As the name denotes, these ants defend the small openings of colonies by plugging their head into the entrance like a cork. When a worker returns to the colony, it will tap the door head ant’s head almost like a secret knock to gain entry. These ants are found in tropical and subtropical areas.
Like the fictional monster from literature and films, this ant feeds on its own. Native to Madagascar, vampire ants, or “Dracula ants” as they’re more commonly called, live in colonies of as many as 10,000. Their primary food source, hemolymph (the equivalent to blood for an ant) is obtained by siphoning it from helpless larvae within their colony. Unable to move, these larvae make for an easy food source in which these ants drain their “blood” in non-lethal amounts that does not kill the larvae, but is sufficient to keep the vampire ant workers alive. Quite the monster, indeed.
Lastly, these ants have nothing left to lose. When the outcome of a battle is hopeless, several species of carpenter ants have a unique failsafe. When death is all but certain, these ants will contract their bodies and self-destruct to defeat their enemy. Venom runs through the length of their body, and by contorting themselves, they’re able to rupture the glands that house the poison and spew it all over a would-be predator. The explosion subdues the enemy, and even when not in battle, some ants are willing to sacrifice themselves using this self-destruct sequence as a hunting tactic. After the deed is done, its fellow ants make off with the prey without any risk.
“10 Bizarre Ant Behaviors” Listverse
“10 Fascinating Facts About Ants” Thought Co.
“How Ants Figured Out Farming Millions of Years Before Humans” NY Times