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Trap-building Ants

Many studies are done on ant behavior, but these amazing Amazonian ants are especially tricky.

a hirtella plant stem and leaves

Photo: João de Deus Medeiros

his ant lives in an Amazonian plant called Hirtella physophora, and it uses the plant's fibers to build its trap.

Ants are known for being fascinating creatures. Not only do they have a complex communication system involving pheromones, but they’re downright tricky little devils too.

An interesting example of their clever trickery is a trap made by the Amazonian ant species Allomerus decemarticulatus.

This ant lives in an Amazonian plant called Hirtella physophora, and it uses the plant’s fibers to build its trap. The ants also make use of a fungus that grows on the plant in order to strengthen the structure of the trap, hardening the plant’s fibers into a fiberglass-like material.

The trap resembles a honeycomb, but works something like a web. After building the honeycomb-like structure, worker ants hide inside the trap’s holes. They wait there with their mouths wide open for a passing insect, such as a butterfly or locust, to land. As soon as their victim does land, the ants immediately bite down on the prey. The effect is similar to the way a spider’s web immobilizes prey: the insect can’t free itself from the web’s sticky grasp.

The ants ambush the victim, biting down on its legs and antennas, so that the prey is unable to release itself from their hold. Soon, other members of the colony join the scene, stinging and biting the victim until it’s paralyzed. Over time, the ants transport the prey back to the colony either as a whole or in pieces. They feed the protein meal to their young.

Though there are plenty of other examples of ants tricking prey, as well as other ants, this is the first example of ants building a trap in order to catch prey.

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