Weaving all the Way
Saevus brings you short stories of life from the undergrowth, which often escape our attention but are of immense importance in the natural world.
The very sight of a swarm of red ants can make your face twitch with the recollection of the painful bites. But, instead of running away from the ants, if you decide to follow them, you might end up at the doorsteps of an architectural wonder, a home built entirely of leaves by the dedicated ant force. The architects are the amazing Weaver ants (Oecophylla smaragdina).
Weaver ants get their names because of their nest-building technique – they weave leaves together! The bigger worker ants, also known as major worker ants, grasp leaf margins and fold them to bring them closer to the opposite margin or another leaf. This requires strength greater than that of a single ant, and the Weaver ants display remarkable teamwork to get this Herculean task done. Immediately the second string of workers weave the leaves using silk produced by the ant larvae.
Besides the major workers, the colony also comprises minor workers – half the size of the former and mainly responsible for brood caring. A single colony can contain more than half a million workers, besides the larvae, and sometimes more than one queen. The colony can be spread over multiple nests over a short distance! The major workers are responsible for nest building, maintaining and defending existing nests and foraging – another task where they exhibit incredible teamwork. Communicating by using chemical and tactile signals, the worker ants forage over large areas, hunting for small to medium-sized invertebrates and vertebrates, which are systematically dissected and carried back to the nest.
Photo: Major worker ants work as a team to carry a beetle, much heavier than a single ant, back to their nest. | By Manjeet and Yograj Jadeja
Read also: Junglimericks: In the Crazy Wilds of India
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