Soil-Nesting Ants Don’t Always Nest Directly In Soil

Most ants live underground, but that doesn’t mean they spend much time in direct contact with the soil. Some nests are worth a detailed look, as not all tunnels through the dirt are as simple as they may first appear:

Polyrhachis (Campomyrma) sp.

This Australian Polyrhachis (Campomyrma) has lined its galleries with a fine wood pulp. I took this photograph last month in southern Australia. In the field, I was far too focused on the ants and their larvae to notice the carton substrate. At least, not right away. But once aware of it, I saw that every nest I uncovered had the pulp wallpaper.

This unusual use of organic matter likely provides the benefit of being better insulated and less prone to flooding or drying out than bare soil. The structure may also be a type of carton, meaning it also holds a connective fungus, but I was unable to find any published literature confirming it. In any case, ant nests themselves can be just as surprising as their hosts.

additional reading: Robson, S. K., & Kohout, R. J. (2007).  A review of the nesting habits and socioecology of the ant genus Polyrhachis Fr. SmithAsian Myrmecology1, 81-99.

2 thoughts on “Soil-Nesting Ants Don’t Always Nest Directly In Soil”

  1. That lining appears to be the result of considerable effort as well. Whatever benefit(s) it confers would seem to be significant. Is tunnel collapse a likely problem in that soil type ? Certain to be an interesting story whatever the reason !!

  2. This is an interesting observation. I recently heard that a western thatching ant nest was found to have its tunnels lined with thatch and fungi. Are there any studies on how various ant genera, other than the leaf cutters, maintain the tunnels and chambers their nests?

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