Acrobat ants, arboreal ninjas

27 Dec
Arboreal acrobat ants suspending their caterpillar prey in a tree.

Acrobat ants (Crematogaster) suspending their caterpillar prey in a tree.

I spotted this impressive sight early this summer.  A dozen or so acrobat ants gripped and suspended a huge caterpillar upside down from a tree branch above me, as other workers started to pick it apart.  As arboreal ants, acrobat ants have some of the most impressive gripping ability I have encountered.  I judge this by the time I have spent aspirating ants from trees for various projects for the lab–in particular the day I helped the post-doc collect several groups of 50 of these guys.  These guys can really hold on.  By the end of an hour I was light-headed from the aspiration attempts, and reduced to using the tube to try to pry the ants loose.

In fact, as Myrmecos author Alex Wild brought up a while back, a number of plants have adapted to take advantage of arboreal predators by providing wooly footholds to help them hold on.



2 Responses to “Acrobat ants, arboreal ninjas”

  1. Dave December 31, 2010 at 8:35 pm #

    Pretty cool, but I wonder if the geometrid died of an NPV or parasitoid and the ants are actually scavenging?

    Woolly leaves are perfect habitat for some predatory mites too – Phytoseius and Paraphytoseius species for example have convergently evolved a morphology that allows them to easily move between leaf trichomes and one finds them only on hairy leaves. Perhaps they are scavenging ant crumbs as well as eating plant-parasitic mites.

    In any case – happy New Year and thanks for the great blog posts.

    • 6legs2many January 1, 2011 at 1:48 pm #

      That sounds plausible.

      Some of the other people in my lab work with trichome densities as a variable in plant selection experiments. As you can imagine, they are intensely interesting to count.

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