WHY IS AFRICAN ARMY ANT SPECIAL?
Africa is well-known for its iconic animals that include lions, elephants and cheetahs. However an easily forgotten animal, that is equally amazing, is the African army or driver ant. These insects have lived for millions of years in forests across Sub-Saharan Africa.
Army ants are so deadly because of their ability to work together in colonies containing over 20 million individuals. These insects form underground anthills that last for a few days to about 3 months, after which they leave in search of food. They usually leave in the form a single colony weighing over 20kg and, when moving, can form columns that stretch over 100m.
WHAT FOOD DO THE ARMY ANTS EAT?
The army ants eat many different types of food that includes both animals and plants. The animals normally eaten by army ants include small insects such as termites, earthworms and other ants. However, they can also kill and eat larger animals such as certain types of birds by biting the animals many times.
WHAT ARE DIFFERENT TYPES OF ANTS IN A COLONY?
The army ants achieve this incredible teamwork by having specific roles for certain types of ant. The 4 most important types in an army ant colony are the soldier, worker, male and queen. The most common of these is the soldier and worker ants which look for food and build the colony.
The soldier ants must protect the colony meaning they have large and more powerful jaws than the other ant types. Although bites from army ants can be painful, they are not a major threat to humans. This is because the ant columns move slowly, at less than 20m per hour, allowing us to easily avoid them.
The other 2 types – the Queen and males – are much smaller in number and are responsible for reproduction. Each army ant colony contains a single Queen ant that mates with the males to produce close to a million eggs every month!
WHY DO WE NEED ARMY ANTS?
Although army ants may seem like a threat to humans, they are hugely beneficial to Africa. This is because many animals may eat the wastes these animals produce. Many birds and other small mammals also rely on these ants to flush insects out which can then be killed for food. Some studies have shown, potentially, hundreds of species may rely on army ants to survive.
Army ants can also directly help humans in farming and medicine. For example, the Maasai people, living in parts of Kenya and Tanzania, rely on these ants to kill many crop-pests. They also use the ants to close wounds by getting the ant to bite either side of a cut and then breaking off its body. Though driver ant bites may cause pain, these ants are vital to maintaining the environment and can be harnessed to help people living all over Africa!