The Ant Daisy Chain, Described

You may remember a recent viral video showing an undescribed predatory ant behavior. It turned out that myrmecologists Christian Peeters and Stéphane de Greef had observed these ants in the field, but they’d not assembled enough data to publish, leaving us all in the dark about how the ants coordinated the amazing millipede-hauling chains.

With a bright internet spotlight on the behavior, Christian and Stéphane returned to the project and have just published a detailed description in Insectes Sociaux. The video alone is worth a thousand words:

 


source: Peeters C, De Greef S. 2015. Predation on large millipedes and self-assembling chains in Leptogenys ants from Cambodia. Insectes Sociaux doi: 10.1007/s00040-015-0426-2

25 thoughts on “The Ant Daisy Chain, Described”

    1. Yes, it was amazing to just see them waiting for the millipede to unfold before all attacking at the same time, as if they were waiting for reinforcement. You’ll notice they just keep their distance, just within millimetres of the millipede, within antenna’s reach.

  1. Fascinating that they all have their tails down in attack position until they grab onto the one in the chain – I haven’t read the paper, but perhaps this is part of the cue to grab on?

    I’d love to know if the mass attack was pheromone based, or if the coordinated grouping was done entirely by visual or auditory stimulation.

  2. This is one of those rare articles that lets you see that ant natural history still has many wonderful things to offer. Yes, I call them rare because there aren’t enough observations like this that shows unique behavior in an already fairly well known group, well known is relative because most ants are still unstudied… The waiting, the first sting, the following of the prey, chain pulling,… GREAT, love it, marvelous!!! How many wonderful behaviors are still waiting to be discovered???

    1. No idea as I could only observe in details this once. All I know if that I’ve seen a single colony bringing back several preys over the course of an hour. So I guess they’re pretty good at it!

  3. Alfred Buschinger

    Great video! I have immediately linked it in our German ant forum “Ameisenportal.eu”. – I saw a couple more videos of S. de Greef, attack and retrieval of a pillbug and a snail, that are also recommendable.

    1. It’s actually quite common for chains to break when one of the ants lose grip and keep on being dragged by several others behind her. It usually takes one to five seconds for them realise it, but then they disperse and try to find a new anchor point. How they know their part of the chain broke lose is not known, but I’m pretty sure it has to do with feeling forces. When there’s no more resistance and the speed suddenly increase, they may just know something got wrong. Similar, in fact, to this: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/ants-move-really-big-stuff/

  4. Marc "Teleutotje" Van der Stappen

    I also read in the article there should be a second species in Borneo with similar behavior. Do you know already more about that species Stephane? Thanks.

    1. Indeed Marc. While preparing this article, we’ve been looking into many videos and photos of Southeast Asian ponerines dragging preys. We have videos from Thailand, which we suspect is the same species of Leptogenys, and some photos from further south in Malaysia and Borneo, which appear to be the same, or a very closely related species. The thing is: there are likely dozens of undescribed species of ponerines in Southeast Asia, so we won’t know for a few more years. Our hope is that this first publication will raise curiosity and incite more people to search the tropics for undescribed species, and spend more time observing ants in the wild.

  5. Is the leaping escape behavior of these large harpagophorid millipedes a specific response only shown during ant attacks, or do they do this when attacked by other predators too?

    1. It’s a good question! I’ve seen some of them doing it when they feel threatened (i.e. when I try to grab them), though they only do it for a second or two at most before returning to a walking mode. It’s the best way for them to move away from the danger at a much higher speed than by walking away on their legs.

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  7. this reminds me of a walk in the woods when i noticed that a centipede, a worm and a salamander all used the same kind of ‘rolling inside out’ behavior (turning themselves upsidedown) when i bugged them. curious. 3 very different taxa!

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  9. We have just begun studying ants, and have occasionally seen local varieties swarming over various small dead organisms – I had assumed these were scavenger events! Wondering if coordinated attacks are more common than we know.

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