If you’ve ever wondered why Crematogaster acrobat ants have such an odd shape, take a look at this:
In Uganda’s Kibale Forest last summer, I smeared a bit of cookie cream along a rock as ant bait. A pleasingly yellow Crematogaster soon arrived to feed. All was well until a second species, in the big-headed ant genus Pheidole, attempted to sneak a taste.
Instantly, the acrobat ant swung her agile abdomen forward – while still feeding (!) – and warded off her competition with a dab of venom. Like many myrmicines, Crematogaster has a stinger, but the structure has evolved from a piercing weapon to a soft, flexible, brush. The unique shape of the acrobat ant abdomen allows these ants to deploy their chemical weaponry in nearly any direction.