The nests of Florida ants called Formica archboldi are adorned with the carcasses of their enemies — namely, the heads of other species known as trap-jaw ants. How Formica archboldi acquire these gruesome home accessories has perplexed scientists since the 1950s. But now, thanks to high-speed and time lapse videos, we have a better picture of this bizarre behavior. The study has been long in the making for Adrian Smith, the head of the Evolutionary Biology & Behavior Lab at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and a professor at North Carolina State University. Like these ants, Smith, too, is from Florida — and he was drawn in by the Formica ants fondness for that abattoir ambiance. “We knew that little tidbit of natural history information,” he says. “There had to be some cool biology happening behind it that was waiting to be described.” So he set up colonies of Formica ants in his lab, brought in some trap-jaw ants, and used high-speed and time-lapse videos to watch what happened. First, the Formica ants squirt the trap-jaw ants with a stream of formic acid that stuns them. Then, they pull the trap jaw ants apart. The Formica ants might also snack on the bodies, although that part is still up for debate. What’s even weirder is that these particular Formica ants and two different species of trap-jaw ants mimic each others’ smells, according to a study recently published in the journal Insectes Sociaux. That implies some sort of longstanding… [Read full story]
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