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Ant Picnic – Acrobat Ants

16 Apr
Acrobat ants feeding on katydid.

Acrobat ants (Crematogaster) feast on a katydid.

I discovered this grisly scene by following a trail of acrobat ants across the red brick courtyard of our Argentinean hotel.  Hundreds of worker ants trekked nearly 20 meters from their nest to the scene of the massacre where they joined their sisters in chewing through the katydid’s tough exoskeleton to burrow their way into the soft tissue beneath, carving up their kill to bring food back to the nest.

Acrobat ants (genus Crematogaster), are typically arboreal, or tree-nesting, ants.  Their petiole, or waist, connects to the top of their heart-shaped gaster (the third body region of ants).  This allows them to flip the gaster up over their backs, both for balance while navigating their tree habitat, and defensively like the stinger of a scorpion.  Acrobat ants wield their venom in a defensive spray rather than a stinging injection.  This is an effective weapon of chemical warfare against other arthropods and small organisms, but generally passes unnoticed by humans.  Their mandibles can still deliver a pinch, however, and they will attempt to follow a bite with a spray of formic acid into the wound.  Although I took this picture in Argentina, acrobat ants are relatively common across the United States.