New research uncovers the predatory behavior of Florida's skull-collecting ant

phys.org | 11/16/2018 | Staff
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"Add 'skull-collecting ant' to the list of strange creatures in Florida," says Adrian Smith a scientist at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and North Carolina State University. His new research describes the behavioral and chemical strategies of a Florida ant, Formica archboldi, that decorates its nest with the dismembered body parts of other ant species.

"In 1958, shortly after this ant was described as a species, scientists reported something weird about it," says Smith, the author of this study. Its nests were home to a collection of decapitated heads of trap-jaw ants. Trap-jaw ants are known as fierce insect predators, not easy prey for other ants. Since then, researchers have speculated that F. archboldi either inherits old trap-jaw ant nesting sites or is somehow a specialized predator. However, scientists had yet to study the biology of this ant in detail.

Study - Observation - Research - Paper - Smith

"This was a study that grew out of reading a peculiar observation in a 60-year-old research paper," says Smith. "Odds were that these ant heads weren't in Formica nests by chance and that there was some interesting biology behind this natural history note." In researching this entomological oddity, Smith was surprised to find that F. archboldi chemically mimic their trap-jaw ant prey and use what is normally a chemical defense, a spray of formic acid, as a deadly weapon against trap-jaw ants.

Using high-speed video recordings Smith found that F. archboldi attacks involve a targeted spray of formic acid that quickly leads to an immobilized trap-jaw ant. Time-lapse video observation of the interior nest chambers of laboratory colonies found that freshly-killed...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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