What do Tatuidris armadillo ants eat?

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It’s the first video of live Tatuidris, among the rarest and least understood of all ants. Until recently, no one had even seen one alive. The video is from a new paper in Insect Science, where a team of Belgian myrmecologists report their observations on a recent collection of live specimens. Here’s the abstract:

Ants of the genus Tatuidris Brown and Kempf (Formicidae: Agroecomyrmecinae) generally occur at low abundances in forests of Central and South America. Their morphological peculiarities, such as mandibular brushes, are presumably linked with specialized predatory habits. Our aims were to (1) assess the Tatuidris abundance in an evergreen premontane forest of Ecuador; (2) detail morphological characteristics and feeding behavior of Tatuidris; and (3) define the position of Tatuidris in the food web. A total of 465 litter samples were collected. For the first time, liveTatuidris individuals were observed. Various potential food sources were offered to them. A nitrogen stable isotope ratio analysis (15N/14N) was conducted on Tatuidris tatusia, other ants, and common organisms from the leaf-litter mesofauna. We found a relatively high abundance of T. tatusia in the site. Live individuals did not feed on any of the food sources offered, as usually observed with diet specialist ants. The isotope analysis revealed that T. tatusia is one of the top predators of the leaf-litter food web.

So Tatuidris is a top micro-predator. But of what?

sources:  Jacquemin J, Delsinne T, Maraun M, Leponce M. 2014. Trophic ecology of the armadillo ant, Tatuidris tatusia, assessed by stable isotopes and behavioral observations. Journal of Insect Science 14(108). Available online: http://www.insectscience.org/14.108.

Greibenow, Z. 2014. Glimpsing Armadillo Ants. Gentle Centipede blog: http://gentlecentipede.blogspot.com/2014/05/glimpsing-armadillo-ants.html

7 thoughts on “What do Tatuidris armadillo ants eat?”

  1. Mark Sturtevant

    Such strange ants! The various online pix show that they have a ginormous stinger. That, and their strange ‘I’m gonna sting something’ posture in the video suggests that they are strict vegetarians. 😉

  2. James C. Trager

    Top predators, eh? Weird little proceratioids! I hypothesize they eat centipede eggs (or maybe spider eggs, like those they superficially resemble). Seems like they could get away with sneaking in and grabbing a centipede egg away from the incubating mother, with as little attention as they are paid by other arthropods (ants, at least).

  3. Is that really an “I’m going to sting something” posture? It seems like the sting would be pointed in the wrong direction. Please explain a little further. Also, why do they move so slowly?

  4. Some other egg-predator ants (Proceratiines) have a forward-facing sting, so it’s a reasonable guess that the odd posture of Tatuidris indicates a similar diet. As to the slow-moving bit, an egg predator wouldn’t need to move quickly, and slow ants are much more difficult to see, so it may also be camouflage. But, this is all just speculation.

  5. Alfred Buschinger

    I speculate in a completely different direction: The brushes at mandibles and mouthparts suggest that the ants collect some „dusty“ material, such as pollen and/or fungus spores. The narrow, conical head and mouthparts would fit well to extract such material from places where it accumulates, i.e. in crumbled/rolled dead leaves or at the bases of leafstalks.
    I asked one of the authors whether the 15N/14N values of fungus-eating ants (leafcutter larvae!) would be similar to those of predatory insects, but apparently such values are lacking. – The sting may be used for trail laying in a complicated, three-dimensional environment.
    Of course, most speculative… 😉

  6. James C. Trager

    Proceratiines use the sting and gastral tip as a counterpoint for manipulating the eggs on which they prey.

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