Pillage Ant Subdues Slaves Via "Chemical Camouflage"


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Need a break from hearing about man’s inhumanity against man?

Fair enough. In lieu, let's take a moment to observe just how brutal other sentient creatures are capable of being to one another.

For example, take the new ant species recently discovered in the northeastern forest floors of the Unites States. Despite its length of one tenth of an inch (2.5 millimeters), the formally dubbed Temnothorax pilagens is just the right size to fit its nickname: “pillage ant”.

In contrast to other slavemaker ant species that use armies to attack, the pillage ants enlist a single scout to recon the places in which potential prey reside - generally hollowed acorns and nuts. Once they’ve honed in on their target, a plundering party of four or fewer is accrued. The group then attacks, annihilating some of the victims and kidnapping others. For those who succumb to the former of these two fates, paralysis and demise follow the stab of a sharp stinger to the neck.

Far less fortunate are those who cheat death during these raids.

Pillage ants proceed to pluck the progeny from their targets, bringing them back to their own nests to be raised like six legged child soldiers. They don’t discriminate, however; these tiny tyrants also acquire adult survivors. In six out of 11 of these insect incursions, the kidnapped get escorted back to the nest of their aggressors, where they can look forward to a lifetime of labor and slavery.

You might ask: why don’t those under siege see these assault assemblies approaching and defend themselves?

That’s a good question. In fact, researchers noticed a delayed reaction in the slave ants at the initiation of the raids. This observation led them to believe that perhaps some sort of “chemical camouflage” cancels out any unwanted compounds the intruder might emit upon entry, announcing its arrival. Instead, this evolutionary feature allows the pillage ant to creep in inconspicuously.

This bellicose bug certainly packs a punch. In fact, as an arthropod attacker with unusual camouflage who stalks solo, the pillage ant sounds a bit like a pint-sized variety of that sci-fi Predator guy.

Image via Wikimedia Commons