Soldier ants, also called bull ants or army ants, include nearly 200 species of ants that practice legionary behavior. Although mostly noted for their aggressiveness, soldier ants have many characteristics and behavior patterns that fascinate scientists and casual observers alike. They are generally found in the Neotropics in Central and South America.
A Vagabond Insect
Soldier ant colonies are always on the move and do not have sedentary nests. Instead, they make a mobile nest by linking their bodies together, called bivouacs. They connect the mandibles of one ant to hooks and spines of the next ant to form an environment that is warm and safe from threat to allow the queen to lay her eggs. The bivouac is notably complex, with tunnels and walls. Workers tend to the eggs inside the bivouac.
Soldier ants live as a societal insect, meaning that various members carryout different tasks for the benefit of the whole group. The queen lays the eggs, while workers, which are always female, tend to the needs of the nest. Different types of workers exist, each one with a different mandible. Those with the largest mandibles protect the other workers as they gather food, while workers with the mid-size mandibles capture prey and bring it to the colony.
Styles of Attack
Soldier ants must migrate to search for food. They can both attack other insects or animals, or raid other ant colonies. Various species of soldier ants have different techniques for attacking. A swarm front attack involves ants sweeping over an area and overwhelming the animals they encounter. Some species send raids in various directions to surround a food source. The ants communicate to each other by leaving a chemical trail. It is organized so guard soldier ants post along the trail and look after the others.
Other types of animals exist in a commensal relationship with soldier ants, in which they try to take advantage of the ants' movement with no effect on the ant colony itself. Soldier ants attack both insects and small mammals alike, even climbing trees to kill birds. Such animals, such as monkeys, may spot and try to escape oncoming ants. For this reason, certain predators follow soldier ant colonies in hope that they might flush out prey, such as fleeing monkey or birds.
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