Here’s Looking At You, Gigantiops destructor…

Ants aren’t known for their visual acuity, but there are a few with excellent eyesight. Among these is the lowland Amazonian species Gigantiops destructor. This perky little insect is perhaps the most charming ant I’ve ever met.

While its enormous compound eyes live up to the epithet Gigantiops, this gentle ant certainly doesn’t merit its species name, destructor. Fabricius, the pioneering taxonomist who named G. destructor (as Formica destructor), never saw one alive and likely didn’t realize the timid nature of these ants. Gigantiops destructor is more prone to run than to fight.

The first time I encountered Gigantiops in the field- nearly 10 years ago in Archidona, Ecuador- I had difficultly photographing it because the workers have a curious habit of leaping up on the camera. Gigantiops is a jumper, an unusual mode of locomotion for an ant, and single workers are commonly seen skipping about in the leaf litter.

Gigantiops is not defenseless, however. It has adopted a pair of rather clever strategies borrowing from other ants in the rainforest community. First, Gigantiops often nests near the feared bullet ant, Paraponera clavata. Few animals are foolhardy enough to tamper with the most painful insect sting in the forest, and presumably Gigantiops gains protection by proximity. Second, Gigantiops is a convincing mimic of another painfully stinging ant. The color, texture, size, and yellow-tipped antennae are all shared with the fierce Pachycondyla apicalis:

Pachycondyla apicalis, a predatory stinging ant and model for Gigantiops

One other notable fact about Gigantiops: it has no close relatives. The genus holds only one species, and it stems from an ancient formicine lineage that has apparently resisted speciation for millions of years. (Unless, of course, the offshoots were unusually prone to extinction). It’s a tough insect to place in an evolutionary context.

In any case, the enigmatic Gigantiops is one of my favorite ants. I hope you enjoy these new photos.

More Gigantiops photos here.


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24 thoughts on “Here’s Looking At You, Gigantiops destructor…”

  1. Thanks for these wonderful (and wonderfully unwatermarked) photos. They’ll make excellent ads for my Gigantiops Mushroom Madness Markdowns!*

    *Only available 9 am-4 pm Saturday and Sunday, while supplies last.

  2. I love this ant, even though it almost got me hurt bad one time:
    I once saw a G. destructor in Mato Grosso, Brazil, skipping deliberately over the leaf litter with a small cockroach nymph in its mandibles. She lept off the edge of every leaf that was poised even slightly above the next available walking surface – very charming. So of course I followed her, keeping over 2m distance so as not to alarm her. Soon, she disappeared under leaf litter at the base of a tree, and as I squatted down and carefully lifted away leaves to find the nest entrance, I failed to notice that three P. clavata workers had climbed upon and were biting my left shoe!
    Closest I ever came to doing what “Crazy Steve” in the Sunday night movie did!

  3. Fascinating links and wondrous photos that display this species uncanny Mantid-like resemblance. Thanks !

    Has anyone done any genetic work looking for cryptic species ?

  4. It looks like something you would get if you waited for one of our Formica fusca-group ants for a few million years.

  5. Thank you so much for these wonderful images and especially for the accompanying text. Each of your posts is a delightful and educational read about a world I will probably never get to see in person. Thank you for your generosity.

    1. Actually there is not much more to say, but one can’t get away without saying thanks, too.
      Apart from the brilliant pictures, I very much appreciate reading of, and feeling with, your relationship – somehow, much is about relationships in ants – towards our friends.
      For that, and as yet unending hours of learning, once again: Thanks.

    1. I agree. One of this photos (not any of these in this post, I guess, but it is at the Gigantiops page at the site) was being shown in the blog for some weeks in the header image and I was not sure if that was an ant or a wasp. Partially because it was just a portion of the entire photo and most because I’m not an specialist.

      Beautiful photos of a beautiful ant.

  6. James.C. Trager

    Ants *are* wasps, of course, though the results of adaptation to terrestrial life, much of it in the dark, and development of prognathy have obscured this in most. Winged males of most ant species maintain quite a waspy appearance, no matter how derived-looking the females are.

  7. Great post – a new species to me (as is often the case with the Americas…) and genuinely intriguing. I wonder if the eyes and the behaviour are fundamentally linked i.e. predator-avoidance rather than aggression?

  8. One of my top very favorite too! When I didn’t know its scientific name, I dubbed her, in spanish, “la negra inquieta”, mainly for her blackness and her restless dancing when I was trying to take a picture of her

  9. Interesting that you comment on the species’ good eyesight. How can one say conclusively about ants that they have good eyesight? What kind of studies have proved/ indicated that?

    Of course, I did really enjoy reading this post, but this question niggles. 🙂

    1. A pithy answer for you.

      Form “follows” function

      Think about it…. after you page thru some pictures of diverse ants in the gallery here and concentrate on their eyes. Relatively few ants are visual predators.

  10. Lucas Paolucci

    Very nice, Alex! I’m sampling in the Amazon now and saw some today, looking to us, and got curious to read more about them. Nice, thanks for those informations!

  11. These photos are amazing, thank you for sharing. It must be incredibly hard to sneak up on these ladies.

    I suppose we would see them if you had, but, have you witnessed a queen before, Alex?

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