And what, Mr. Holmes, was the sordid tale behind Monday’s mystery ant infestation?
The preceding night a vertebrate predator- a rodent, perhaps- caught and ate a katydid. The animal wasn’t a clean killer, however, and left behind droppings, urine, and uneaten bits of prey. Ants (Dolichoderus quadridenticulatus) later discovered the remains, recruiting to feed on the predator’s excretions as well as the leftover katydid appendages.
Points are awarded as follows: 2 to Morgan Jackson for being the first to make the recruitment to feces observation. 5 each to Piotr Naskrecki, Ben Coulter, and James Trager for supplying relevant information about the prey ID, nutritional value of vertebrate poop, and ant ID, respectively.
I like this mystery because it highlights the ecological centrality of ants as recyclers of just about everything. A rodent may not make full use of a katydid, but ants will take not only the unused parts but also the predator’s own waste. Ants are efficient little animals, and there’s not much in the forest that doesn’t eventually get cycled through them.