Army Ants on the March
Many have experienced the foraging efforts of ants while out on a picnic and even at home, if not there's a chance you will during your South African safari. Ants have an uncanny knack of finding the smallest crumb and mysteriously summoning their entire colony to the feast.
They do this by means of pheromones. As soon as one ant spots a likely meal, they release a pheromone invitation to the rest of the gang to join the party.
This is a rather annoying survival tactic, but if you don't mind sharing, it's rarely reason for concern. Yet there are always those who take it to the next level. These are the army ants.
Also known as 'driving', 'legionary' and 'visiting' ants, army ants are not named for their military precision and ability to march two by two.
Rather, think of barbarian hordes pillaging the countryside. These ants live in colonies consisting of several million individuals – that's a lot of mouths to feed. As such, they spend a lot of their time on the move in search of a meal. They come, they see, and they conquer.
A colony of army ants has 3 castes, as follows:
As in the case of termites and bees, the queen's only task is to lay eggs at a rate of about 3-4 million a month. Each colony has only one monarch, and their entire existence centres on her.
Male ants live only long enough to mate with the queen, and then they die – usually within 48 hours. Every other member of the colony is female, and you know what they say about the female of the species.
These are the next largest type of ant in the colony and they live to defend the queen. They have enormous mandibles and heads designed to rip and shred anything that threatens their charge. Often their jaws are so overdeveloped that they can't feed without assistance.
Workers are the backbone of the ant colony, they are responsible for bringing food back to the nest, caring for the queen and soldiers and are the first line of defence for the colony.
A hunting party of these creatures is like a river of ants, consisting of up to 20 million individuals, all armed with well-developed mandibles and the ability to digest prey while it's still alive.
While on the move, they construct temporary bivouacs out of their own bodies to shelter their queen. The temporary nests consist entirely of ants clinging to one another and can include tunnels and shelter for the larvae and eggs too.
Although army ants usually confine their menu to insects and spiders, they can consume birds, including hens, small mammals and snakes. There are even reports of them dismembering livestock that gets in their path.
Book your South African safari with Thornybush Collection if you'd like to find out more about Africa's amazing and unique creatures.