In the tropical rainforest,
ants are everywhere. Ants are the most abundant animals, and their total
"biomass," or how much they all weight when put together, is heavier than
any other group of animals in the rainforest.
There are many different kinds
of ants in a tropical forest. In fact, the famous researcher named E.
O. Wilson found over 200 species of ants on a single tree!
The picture to the right is
a swarm of army ants, named because they run around in giant raiding groups.Army ants eat other ants and
any kinds of insects or arthropods they can find on the forest floor.
They are of little danger to humans and other mammals, although the majors
(the ones with the big heads) can bite pretty hard.
Leafcutter Ants (Atta cephalotes)
These little ants do a lot of big work in the rainforest. You will usually see worker ants following each other single file into and out of their underground nests. Worker ants carry pieces of leaves along well built trails into the nest. A smaller pilot "hitchhiker" ant usually protects the leaf and the worker ant from pesky parasites (wasps, phorid fly). Without the protection from this tiny ant the entire colony could be destroyed due to infestation from parasite eggs. The worker ant carries the leaves to smaller workers which chew the leaf into smaller pieces, making it all sticky. The sticky leaf mass is then added to the fungus garden that the ant colony eats. The ant needs to defecate (poop) on the leaves in order for the fungus to grow. All of the ants work to take care of the fungus garden, growing fungus just like we grow food. They have help from a bacterium that grows right on their bodies. The bacterium protects the garden from disease. These ants are very sensitive about the needs of their gardens and ‘talk’ to them with chemical signals. They are very important to the rainforest ecosystem.
Bullet Ant (Paraponera clavata)
The Bullet Ant got its name because it's sting feels like being shot by a bullet. It is the most painful sting of any of the Neotropical rainforest's ants. Bullet Ants get up to one inch or 2.5 cm in length.
Ants are related to bees and wasps, all belonging the insect order, Hymenoptera. Some ants sting like the bullet ant, and some do not even have stingers. Others use acid to burn your skin.
Check out the video of Bullet Ants coming out of their den below.
Copyright Gerald R. Urquhart
Michigan State University
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