The Case of the Foaming Ants

Check this out:

Pachycondyla striata workers "rolling around for some minutes", São Paulo, Brazil. (Photo by João P. Burini, used with permission).

These wrestling Pachycondyla striata ants are encased in foam. How? Why? I’m not sure.

Literature searches reveal nothing immediately relevant. Some Asian Pachycondyla species produce foam from their DuFour’s venom gland as a defense against attack by smaller ants, but this is the first I’ve seen of a potentially similar behavior from Neotropical species. If defensive foaming is what’s happening here, these insects may have doomed themselves to mutually-assured destruction.

This photograph was posted to flickr by the talented Brazilian photographer João Burini (better known as techuser).  That a single upload to a photo-sharing site contains more information than the entirety of the published literature serves as a reminder that, for all our post-Enlightenment scientific research, the sheer diversity of life on earth makes novel observation as simple as remembering to take your camera on a walk in the woods.

(h/t Stéfane De Greef  & João Burini on FB)

4 thoughts on “The Case of the Foaming Ants”

  1. A correction: The report’s abstract says that the foam is produced from the venom gland, and that the Dufour’s gland is atrophied.

  2. I found some of these ants on a recent trip to India. I took some low-quality video of this behavior with a point-and-shoot camera. The foam ejection is pretty impressive to see!

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