ant

Not Exactly Rocket Science

Tag archives for ant

Terminally ill ants choose to die alone

In 1912, Antarctic explorer Captain Lawrence Oates willingly walked to his death so that his failing health would not jeopardise his friends’ odds of survival. Stepping from his tent into a raging blizzard, he left his men with the immortal words, “I am just going outside and may be some time.” It was a legendary…

Hardly a natural history documentary goes by without some mention of leafcutter ants. So overexposed are these critters that I strongly suspect they’re holding David Attenborough’s relatives to ransom somewhere. But there is good reason for their fame – these charismatic insects are incredibly successful because of their skill as gardeners. As their name suggests,…

In Latin America, there lives a unique spider called Bagheera kiplingi. It’s a jumping spider and it shares the group’s large, acute eyes and prodigious leaping ability. But it also has a trait that singles it out among all 40,000 species of spider – it’s mostly vegetarian. Virtually all spiders are predators. They may hunt…

It’s been just three weeks since I last wrote about the dark-footed ant-spider Myrmarachne melanotarsa, but this is one species that just keeps getting more and more interesting. To quickly recap, M.melanotarsa is a jumping spider that protects itself from predators (like other jumping spiders) by resembling an ant. Earlier this month, Ximena Nelson and…

In 1979, somewhere in Dartmoor, a butterfly died. That would hardly have been an exceptional event, but this individual was a Large Blue butterfly (Maculinea arion) and it was the last of its kind in the United Kingdom. Over more than a century, the Large Blue’s population had been declining and it was finally declared…

The animal world is full of harmless liars, who mimic species more dangerous than themselves in order to avoid the attention of predators. But none do it quite like the dark-footed ant-spider Myrmarachne melanotarsa. As its name suggests, this small species of jumping spider, discovered just nine years ago, impersonates ants. In itself, that’s nothing…

We recognise dead people by the absence of signals that indicate life – movement, responsiveness, pulses, brain activity, and so on. The Argentine ant does the same, but its signal is a chemical one. Throughout its life, an ant uses chemicals in its skin to automatically send out a message to its nest-mates, saying “I’m…

The rebellion of the ant slaves

Humans aren’t the only species that have had to deal with the issue of slavery. Some species of ants also abduct the young of others, forcing them into labouring for their new masters. These slave-making ants, like Protomagnathus americanus conduct violent raids on the nests of other species, killing all the adults and larva-napping the…

Ants are among the most successful of living things. Their nests are well-defended fortresses, coordinated through complex communication systems involving touch and chemical signals. These strongholds are stocked with food and secure from the outside world, so they make a tempting prospect for any burglars that manage to break in. One species of butterfly –…