Discover Weaver Ants—They Use Their Babies as Tools!

Discover Weaver Ants—They Use Their Babies as Tools!


Oecophylla smaragdina, Weaver ant
Hello I’m Nash Turley. So I want to tell you about an experience I had a couple
months ago in Thailand I was walking around a Buddhist temple and there was
lots of vegetation around there was this small shrub about this high there are a
bunch of ants crawling around on it and when I walked up close I got so excited
because I actually recognized something because you know I didn’t expect to
recognize anything in Thailand I’ve never been there before but I look close
and based on their behavior and what they were doing I knew that those were
Weaver ants what’s so exciting about weaver ants? so
what makes Weaver ants so unique is their behavior of nest building so what
they do is a as a highly cooperative behavior where they build nest in trees
using silk and you might think well I didn’t know that ants made silk
well adult ants don’t make silk they can’t only the larvae can make silk so
in weaver ants the adults use the larvae as a tool to build their nest it’s
totally incredible the larvae have evolved to be passive
dispersers of silk the adults pick them up and they carry them in their jaws and
they move them to a leaf and then they tap them with their antennae and then
that’s the signal for the larvae to excrete silk they attach it to a leaf
and they move it to another leaf and then they tap it with their antennae in
a very specific way again and then it releases the silk and then it does that
ritualistic behavior again and again until the leaves are stitched together
could you tell us more about their nest building behavior Weaver ant nest
building involves two incredibly complicated and coordinated behaviors
the first is the process of bringing the leaves together to form the nest Weaver
ant nests are formed in trees out of leaves that are brought together in a
basket of sorts that they live inside and to have their eggs and larvae in to
pull those leaves together they often have to form a chain of ants that string
from one leaf to the other two then ratchet it closed so imagine like a
barrel of monkeys that are connecting two different leaves and pulling it
together this is where the second coordinated
behavior comes in which is then attaching those leaves weaving them
together once they’re once they’re close to each other there are only two species of weaver
ants both in the genus oOecophylla one that lives in Africa and another
that lives in Southeast Asia and Australia now the idea of weaving with
silk is not unique among weaver ants there are other ants that do that in
weaving with silk has evolved four times in ants but the full complex suite of
behaviors are unique among the genus Oecophylla How did weaver ants evolve this ability? to use silk as a tool the use of silk by
weaver ants is a great example of neo-functionalization this is where a trait
that served one purpose evolves to serve a completely different purpose a good
example of this is feathers and birds when feathers first evolved it’s thought
that the primary function was to keep birds warm but of course later feathers
also were used to aid in flight. Silk in ants as well as most other insects is
used in the process of metamorphosis when a larva reaches the end of its
development it wraps itself up in silk to form a pupa inside that pupa
metamorphosis occurs and then an adult emerges weaver ants the silk is used for
a completely new purpose which is building their nest to do this they had
to evolve several unique traits the first is to have really huge silk glands
that produce way more silk than other ants would and the second is that they
evolved to produce silk earlier on in development which gives them more time
to aid in the nest building process Do they have any benefits for humans?
Farmers have been using Weaver ants to control pests on their crops for over
1700 years which is the oldest example of biocontrol. Now modern-day farmers of cocoa, citrus, coconut, mangoes and cashew encourage weaver ants in their orchards
which help control the pests so next time you eat chocolate or mangoes you might have a weaver and to think but addition to controlling the pests they are also a
food source in themselves the larva of weaver ants are eaten as a delicacy
particularly in Thailand so in addition to improving the yield of those crops
they’re also an extra protein source on their own that’s our weaver and episode for you
thanks for watching we hope you found it as interesting as we did now you know
what those balls of leaves are if you ever see one out and about we’ll be back
with more episode so subscribe if you want to keep updated now here is Leslie
Nielsen hosting a 1970s nature documentary about animals that use tools
featuring one only weaver ants as with any other highly organized project there
is a division of labor some do the holding and others do the weaving soon
the ants have built a firm and dense connection between the leaves using
their own larvae as their tools

1 thought on “Discover Weaver Ants—They Use Their Babies as Tools!”

  1. Something a little more humorous on the subject of weaver ants: https://morepotatoes.com/the-vivacious-armistice-of-the-weaver-ant/

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