Shelter is one of the most important essential or a necessity for living beings. And we all know how much we strive to achieve an abode of our dreams. The constructors try to lure us with their various fancy schemes and designs. However, as I have always maintained, the Nature is always one up on us.
Can anyone imagine that this cute little nest is handiwork of tiny ants? These are called as Weaver Ants. Their scientific name is Oecophylla and mainly two species are found in these weaver ants – Oecophylla longinoda and Oecophylla smaragdina. These are long legged and slender in structure. They are found in northern Australia, India, Sri Lanka and south-east Asia.
This is an era of social networking; but these species of ants had perfected the communications skills since more than millions of years. These weaver ants are very aggressive and dominant. Generally different ant species co-exist and share a single tree. however the weaver ants are very protective about their territory.
They are arboreal or ants living in trees. The locals of the rain forests in Australia call them’tree ants’. These ants have very special communication techniques. They release certain chemicals (produced by different glands); these are used for giving different signals or messages. For rapid and wide spread transmission of the signals, they give out pheromones. These pheromones trails created by the worker ants help other ants find new food sources and warn against any intruder. Apart from the chemicals, weaver ants also communicate with each other by the touch of mouth, forelegs and antennae.
Weaver ants are fiercely protective about their territory which could be from the tree-top to the base of a particular tree, or several neighbouring trees, with innumerable leafy-nests on the trees.
The weaver ants are very meticulous about sticking the plant leaves together to form a nest. The ants form a group to draw an edge of a leaf towards that of another leaf. If the distance between the two leaves is more, the ants form a live chain by climbing one above other, one grasping the next one’s waist. Such multiple, parallel chains (something resembling a live construction crane) work together to pull the edges of leaves together.
Once this is done, other worker ants fetch larvae from an existing nest. They carry these larvae in their mandibles. When the heads of these larvae are tapped, they produce a blob of silk. This silk is used to bind the leaves together. For this, the worker ants manoeuvre the larvae together in a co-ordinate manner between the leaves.
The nests are usually elliptical shaped in various sizes. A small nest could be of a single folded leaf while the big ones could be half a meter long. Several such nests are found on a tree where weaver ants form their colony.
As these weaver ants are aggressive towards intruders, south-east Asian farmers use them as natural bio-control agents, especially in fruit agriculture. When these ants sting, they pour formic acid in the bite wound, which results in discomfort.
Image Sources: National Geographic, Reader’s digest.