Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Ants vs. Termites

On the way back from obs in Serena Camp, we witnessed part of an epic and ancient battle: that of the termite versus the ant.  As Bert Hölldobler and E.O. Wilson wrote in their classic book The Ants (1990), “the two groups have undoubtedly been locked in struggle for the greater part of the 100 million years of their coexistence, with ants acting as the active aggressors for the most part and termites as the prey and resisters.”

Ants, as predators, represent the single greatest threat to termites and their nests.  Ants are more agile and often attack in a cooperative manner, against which individual termites have little hope.  Soldier termites, however, have enlarged heads and powerful jaws to help protect themselves against raiding ants. Termite soldiers can block a tunnel long enough for other termites to close it off, thus sacrificing themselves but saving the rest of their nest.  

Our experience with this age-old war began when we encountered an ant line moving across our driveway.  Ant lines are typically guided by an odor trail, with chemicals laid down by a scout or leader that the other ants follow.  This day's column of ants remained cohesive until it reached the termite nest, at which point the ants formed a giant swarm and poured simultaneously into every hole in the ground.  The black ants reemerged from the nest carrying brown termites, which the ants quickly subdued.  The battle was short-lived, and five minutes later the ants were carrying the termites back across the road towards their own nest for future feasting.

The ants begin to swarm upon reaching the termite nest.

The invasion begins!


The ants subdue the soldier termites, identifiable by
their enlarged heads and powerful jaws.

The ants carry their prey home...

...a successful raid accomplished.

Living in the Mara, we are lucky enough to be surrounded by some of the most amazing megafauna alive today.  It’s easy to forget about all of the small creatures that live here as well, and are sometimes just as cool.


Anonymous said...

Great post! The Mara has such cool things - great AND small. Did you get any video?

dee said...

I really enjoyed this post. Thanks for looking at the small creatures. How about doing some more? Dung beetles would be fun to hear about. Anyway, thanks.

Michigan State University | College of Natural Science