The army ant (marabunta) is a collective name applied to more than 200 ant species. Army ants are mainly found in the tropical and temperate regions throughout the North and South America as well as Asia, Australia, and Africa. They are one of the minibeasts that have thrived on our planet for millions of years. America is home to over 140 known species of army ants.
Army Ants Facts
- Worker ants are typically blind but they do possess compound eyes. Their eyes have only single lens. Workers are usually composed of female worker ants.
- Worker ants are classified into four categories: majors and submajors. Majors are the largest ants while submajors are relatively smaller. Submajors are supposed to carry food to the ants at the back of the trail. Most of the army ants are called media ants. Media ants are medium-sized ants and they are general laborers.
- Media ants are hardworkers, they transport pupae and larvae.
- Minors are the smallest of the army ants and as such they are given duty to help the queen to move as the queen becomes too fat to move.
- Eciton burchelli is the most recognized species of army ants.
- A major is the largest ant among army ants. Major is meant to protect the colony from intruders. It has sickle-shaped jaws with the help of which major poise to attack. They are also called soldier ants. Soldier ants however cannot carry food because they got curved like sickles.
- It doesn’t matter how many army ants are there in a single colony, there would be only one queen. Colonies of other ant species may have one or more queens. The queen possesses large gaster and vestigial eyes.
- There are 10 – 12 segments on the queen’s antennae which is significantly greater than that of army ants.
- Unlike the queen of other ants’ colony, the army ants queen does not have wings.
- Males are known as “sausage flies” or “sausage ants”. They have a large cylindrical abdomen and their antennae have 13 segments. Right after their birth males will go to find a queen for mating.
Feeding Ecology & Diet
- Army ants primarily feed on animals ten times the size of their own. They are likely to prey on cockroaches, beetles, grasshoppers, spiders and they don’t even spare scorpions.
- Cockroaches make the much of the ants’ diet.
- Army ants raid in large numbers and once they have finished raiding an area, any animal any part of it is less likely to be found in the desolate ruins they leave behind.
“A SINGLE COLONY OF ARMY ANTS MAKE SO MUCH NOISE THAT ONE COULD HEAR THEM BEFORE ONE COULD SEE THEM”
- Army ants are less likely to send individual scouts to find prey. Instead they will cooperate in groups—these groups don’t have a leader.
- They don’t make permanent nests—army ants are wanderers and they must prey large animals that could feed the entire colony.
- Once they occupy an area army ants build temporary nests called ‘bivouacs’. There are 500,000 ants in a bivouacs and it weighs up to one kilogram. They camp here for one night and when the daylight breaks, the whole colony will go on a trail.
- When on a raid army ants rarely follow a leader. During raid they reach a speed of 20 meters per hour. Researchers suggest that each Eciton species acts on its own in a raid.
- The nomadic phase of army ants starts within 10 days from the day queen lays her eggs. During this phase they will keep on moving busy in searching insects, small vertebrates, and spiders.
- Nearly all ant species are thought to be efficient predators however they are not good enough to prey animals ten times the size of their own unless they are greater in numbers. If they go for the large animals then they must call other ants to help carry the kill. None of this applies to army ants for they always attack in hundreds sometimes in thousands; it doesn’t matter how big the animal is, they’ll finish it off.
- Army ants are able to consume any animal if that animal falls within their trail.
- They are in a habit of forming a curtain. Army ants hold on to each others’ feet to form a curtain.
- Army ants travel in a single line almost all the time until when they spot a prey—at this point they all spread.
- The army ants’ trail is 100 meters long and the width is up to 20 meters. Research suggests that 15 million workers (in multiple colonies) are able to transport 3,000 prey animals per hour.
- Reproductive Biology
The queen is most likely to mate with several males producing 3,000,000 – 4,000,000 eggs in one month.