A casual stroll in the wilderness always leaves me wondering about the remarkable capabilities of many of the little creatures that share the space with us. Often these are proficiencies that we fail to recognise, let alone appreciate. One such happens to be the ability of the Weaver Ants Oecophylla smaragdina.
Weaver Ants are tree dwelling and they live in large colonies. They are predatory in nature. They make a meal of a variety of small animals that they find.
These aspects may be true of many other ants too. But the ability of these ants to build leaf nests on trees is what makes the Weaver Ants truly special!
Often building a nest of this kind takes a huge amount of effort. This, you will realise only if you get into the shoes of these ants! From an ant’s perspective the distances could be huge and the task of building a nest, massive. It calls for an extensive and efficient co-ordination among individuals that are involved.
The story begins when a mature queen with wings finds a mate.
Once she has mated, she loses her wings. She then finds a suitable leaf to lay her first clutch of eggs.
She tends these eggs until they become worker ants and slowly take over the functions of the colony.
Once the leaves are close enough, the ant larvae are pressed into service. The larvae are used like tiny gum tubes as they secrete silk. The adult workers, while holding the larvae, go about touching the surfaces that are to be glued together. Once a few leaves are bent and stitched, you have a leaf nest ready!
As the colony grows, they go about building satellite nests. This is thought to have advantages as food found can be moved to the nearest nest, saving on time and energy for these industrious ants. A mature colony is thought to have as many as half a million individuals.
Though these ants are largely arboreal, you will see that the Weaver Ants are at home as they march on the forest floor. These ants are quite aggressive. Move your finger near a train of ants and you will see them pause and react. They will look in the direction of your finger with their strong curved mandibles open and in all readiness to bite the intruder!
These ants are capable of some amazing feats – be it building their leaf nests or transporting large food items back to their nests or simply communicating with their nest mates. Wait, watch and be rewarded.