Tag Archives: ant colonies

An Aggressive Jumping Ant With Jaws Like A Bear Trap Is Invading Southeastern U.S.

Meet the trap-jaw ant. This gnarly family of ants has massive mandibles which can open up to 180 degrees. These jaws are coated in tiny, extremely sensitive hairs, which allow the ants to snap their jaws closed faster than their brains can even process the movement (some claim they are the fastest jaws in the world).

The Odontomachus trap-jaw  ant

These formidable ants have another amazing (but rather scary) ability: when threatened, they snap their powerful jaws against the ground, creating a massive amount of force which shoots them upwards like a piece of popcorn.

With painful stingers attached to their abdomens, being surrounded by a bunch of these jumping ants could be a very unpleasant experience.

“They look like little hammerhead sharks walking around,”

said D. Magdalena Sorger, a scientist who has been studying these insects as part of her PhD research at North Carolina State University.

There are four species of trap-jaw ants native to the U.S., but Sorger’s research has focused on a particularly aggressive species of trap-jaw ants that originated in South America.

This invasive species of trap-jaw ant, known as Odontomachus haematodus, has actually been living in the States for around 50 years now, but studies have shown that the ant has been rapidly spreading along the Gulf Coast in recent years.

The invasive trap-jaw ant species Odontomachus haematodus (Courtesy of Alexander Wild)

Why are they only spreading now? Sorger isn’t sure yet, but suggests that they were either building up their numbers before spreading, or that changes in climate have allowed them to inhabit a wider range.

So, should we be worried about a trap-jaw ant takeover? That’s pretty unlikely, according to invasive ant specialist Andrew Suarez. He points out that unlike other invasive ants (like fire ants, for example), these South American trap-jaw ants,

”don’t have colonies with tens to hundreds of thousands of workers that can overwhelm the local fauna.”

He does point out that their sting is particularly painful however, and that some people may be allergic to the venom.

Read the original story from National Geographic here.

Feature image courtesy of Alexander Wild.

How Does this Fly Control the Spread of Fire Ants Through Decapitation?? (Video)

Meet the phorid fly. Rather than take on the stresses of parenthood themselves, these flies use fire ants as a sort of sacrificial surrogate mother when reproducing. Here’s the basics.

The flies are attracted to fire ant colonies by the pheromones (basically smell-signals) that the ants use to navigate and communicate with one another. When the flies arrive, the ants give off even stronger “alarm” pheromones to alert the colony of the invasion, unaware that the pheromones are totally getting the flies even more hot and bothered.

The flies mate in mid-air, then the female, who is equipped with a “lock-and-key” ovipositor (egg-laying organ) like the one below, hovers over a potential “foster parent” until the perfect moment, when she swoops down, locks the ovipositor onto the ant, and injects a fertilized egg into the ant’s thorax.

“Lock-and-key” Ovipositor

From there, the larva hatches and then makes its way into the ants’s head, where it feeds off it’s body fluids for a few days during the fly’s pupa stage, while releasing a chemical that basically brainwashes the ant into acting normal (ant colonies naturally exclude ants that are acting strangely so as to avoid the spread of viruses), despite the obvious discomfort it experiences from being eaten from the inside out.

When the pupa decides it’s time to emerge, it uses this same chemical mind control to make the ant go to an area with a lot of leaf or plant litter where humidity levels are ideal for the fly. When the fly decides it’s in a good spot, it releases one last chemical which dissolves the ant’s remaining membranes, including the tissue that holds the head on, and emerges as an adult fly.

Here’s some sweet footage of the process: