If we picture ants, we are most likely thinking of the most commonly seen ‘fire’ or ‘sugar’ ant. What we don’t realize is that there are many different species of the ant community. The most fierce and dangerous being the mighty Army Ants.
Army ants are some of the deadliest hunters of South America. Amassing in legions of over 200,000 ants, they become a massive predatory super-organism that fan out across the jungle floor leaving dismembered prey in their wake.
Army Ants vary in size but remain roughly between 8 and 12 millimeters in length. Their color is typically a light brown, but has been reported to also resemble a red tint. This species of ant is incredibly intelligent. Army ants (Ecitoninae spp.) are carnivorous, nomadic and aggressive. They attack freely, eat without discrimination, migrate to locate food sources and maintain a complex social hierarchy. They are found primarily in the southern United States, Central America, South America, and even Africa and parts of Asia.
By now, you will not be surprised to hear that these ants are, in fact, very huge, with the soldiers reaching a half inch in length. Like other ant species, the bodies of army ants consist of a head, abdomen and thorax. The thoraxes of army ants are located between the head and abdomen and are connected to the abdomen by joints known as nodes. Their abdomens are oval-shaped, and the stomach, stinger and large intestine are located within it. The head of the army ant has eyes, mouth and antennae. Their mouths consist of two jaws, or mandibles, which resemble scissors. However, adult army ants are unable to eat solid items and ingest only liquids. They use their antennae to smell, touch and communicate. The worrisome fact is they have massive, powerful, machete-like jaws half the length of the soldiers themselves. They’re notorious for dismantling any living thing in their path, regardless of size. They’re also completely blind, which for some reason makes the whole thing worse.
They’re called ‘Army’ ants because their entire colony, comprising up to and over one million insects, is a 100 percent mobile battalion. They don’t make permanent hives like other ants, no, they bivouac down in single locations just long enough for the queen to lay thousands of eggs, while the soldiers spread out in wide fans daily in search of food. Then the eggs hatch and they enter the dreaded swarm phase of their existence.
Army ants do not build a nest like most other ants. Instead, they build a living nest with their bodies, known as bivouac. Bivouacs tend to be found in tree trunks or in burrows dug by the ants. The members of the bivouac hold onto each other’s legs and so build a sort of ball, which may look unstructured to a layman’s eyes, but is actually a well-organized structure. The older female workers are located on the exterior; in the interior are the younger female workers. At the smallest disturbance, soldiers gather on the top surface of the bivouac, ready to defend the nest with powerful pincer and stingers. The interior of the nest is filled with numerous passages and contains many chambers with food, the queen, the larvae, and the eggs
These ants are mostly found living underground or up in trees. This is their safest way to avoid being stepped on, which is most commonly the death to many of these creatures. However, as many of these ants get trampled, it is highly unlikely for them to grow extinct. In just one colony there will be an average of 5,000 to 18,500 ants. A single queen can lay anywhere from 100,000 to 300,000 eggs. Most Army Ants will have a lifespan of 3 to 13 months.
The queen in an Army Ant colony is much like that of other ant species. They have one wingless queen whose life consists of mating and laying eggs. Contrary to popular belief that the only female in a colony is the queen, there are many blind female workers in the group. The rest consists of male soldiers known as Eciton burchelli. The soldiers are a whopping one to two inches long! They have a very important role in their group which consists of protecting the queen, killing and gathering food, and forming attacks on enemy colonies. Soldiers are born with very large mandibles which they use to kill, carry large objects, and to dig. The mandibles are so huge for their body size that they cannot feed themselves. The soldiers rely on the team effort of the worker ants to help feed them.
These ants are extremely fearsome species. If they come across prey, they attack en masse. Pretty much anything that they come across is ripped apart piece by tiny piece with their small but powerful jaws. This includes livestock. There are legendary, and quite possibly true, tales of the ants enveloping cows, moving on a short time later leaving nothing but the animal’s picked clean bones. Finally, their cooperative nature means they can overcome almost any obstacle. When faced with small bodies of water the ants can cling together with their claws to form a kind of living bridge, which the rest of the colony can then cross as it searches for more food. An army ant swarm is one of the most efficient eating machines in existence.
If you are ever in a known territory for Army Ants, please take extreme caution. These ants will attack any living creature they feel is a threat – and yes, that means you too! If you step on a nest, or fall asleep near a nest you are likely to become their next prey. The soldiers attack in extremely large groups, covering their meal completely as they begin to cut the flesh into tiny pieces. As savage creatures they leave the organs in place, causing whatever they kill to be torn apart while still alive – ouch. So be sure to watch your step or you may become their next feast!
These ants are capable of destroying everything in their path to gain access to food. Since they are mostly found underground, they pose a huge threat to our underground cables and pipes. In addition as mentioned above they are also capable of harming our livestock. Let’s take a look at the following article which describes in brief the study done on army ants;
Study: Army Ant’s Bloody Rampage Is in its Genes
July 10, By Lee Dye
It looked like a red river, Sean Brady says as he recalls the spectacular sight of millions of army ants advancing through the dense Amazon jungle, devouring everything in their path.
“The whole forest was percolating with insects trying to get out of there,” he says, and even small reptiles, or other animals that couldn’t flee, were ripped to pieces by the ferocious ants.
It’s a very strange life style, and it sets army ants apart from all other ants. And that’s only part of the story.
Brady, an entomologist at Cornell University, has found that army ants have been acting that way for at least 100 million years. The “army ant syndrome,” essentially how they live their lives, hasn’t changed much in all that time.
Marching Genes Go Way Back
That evolutionary stability is quite remarkable, and it all began when India, Australia, Antarctica, Africa and South America formed a single super-continent called Gondwana. Evolutionary biologists had assumed that army ants developed their peculiar lifestyle in different areas of the globe after the continents separated, but Brady’s research shows that’s not the case.
“Once the original army ant evolved this syndrome, no army ant has ever lost it,” Brady says. Brady began his research as a doctoral candidate at the University of California, Davis, before moving on to Cornell. His findings were published in a recent issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
He reached his conclusions after studying the DNA from dozens of army ant species, and combined that with the fossil record to reconstruct the evolutionary history of army ants. Specifically, he found that all the species share some of the same genetic mutations, and thus came from the same ancestors who evolved back when the dinosaurs ruled the planet.
They don’t all look the same any more. Most have no eyes and thus cannot see, although some now have a single, large eye. Some have evolved other new physical features, and even some have new behavioral patterns. But all of them, whether in Africa, Asia or the Americas, are still ruled by the “army ant syndrome.”
“It’s a combination of three traits,” Brady says.
A Marching Syndrome
Most ant species send out scouts when they need food, but not army ants. The entire colony, numbering up to a million, sets off across the landscape, moving at about two to three feet per minute, Brady says, eating everything they catch.
And if you eat everything in sight, you’ve got to keep moving, so army ants are nomadic, literally eating themselves out of house and home and then moving on. No permanent nests for these guys.
And then there’s the queen, blind, wingless, but very good at what she does for the colony. She produces eggs, up to four million in a month. That reproductive cycle forces the colony to hang out at one location for awhile, and they form huge nests by literally hanging on to each other.
And then they move on again, devouring around 50,000 insects in a single day, according to Bill Gotwald, professor of biology at Utica College in New York and author of Army Ants: The Biology of Social Predation. Gotwald says if you imagine yourself being attacked by 50,000 wolves, you’ll have some idea of what it’s like being an insect caught in the path of army ants.
There are reports of army ants killing animals the size of a horse, but Brady says he’s not sure of the reliability of those reports. A calf tied to a tree maybe unable to get out of the way.
“They are ferocious enough that I’m sure they could kill a baby cow that was tied up,” Brady says.
Forest on Alert
He carried out his field research in several areas of Brazil, and he says his camp was visited many times by these regimented, hierarchal critters. Like most predators, they don’t target humans, he says, so he could stand alongside the marching colony without any danger, but rest assured he watched his step.
When the ants were on the move, he says, the whole forest paid attention. Insects chirped loudly, and he says he could hear small animals running wildly through the forest, trying to escape. Birds followed the marauders, picking up the scraps left behind.
As for the ants themselves, there’s not a lot of chatter going on. They move quietly along, a blood-red river that has not changed for 100 million years.
Knowing the capability of these army ants, it is of utmost importance that we employ effective methods to prevent these voracious creatures from harming us, our livestock and our applications especially wires, cables and pipes. The best way of preventing the army ants from causing damage is to use TERMIREPEL™. Termirepel™ is non-toxic, non-hazardous and environment friendly product of C TECH CORPORATION. It is a broad spectrum aversive which repels around 500 species of insects including aggressive species like Australian termites, army ants, etc. It works on the mechanism of repellence and does not harm target or non-target species.
Termirepel™ is available in solid masterbatch form which can be incorporated in cables and plastic pipes which are laid underground. It is also available in liquid and lacquer form and coated on the surface of the application to keep army ants away from them. They can also be coated in the area where the livestock to prevent fatal attack of these army ants.