The Amusing Case of Homewrecker Ants Getting Robbed by Sneaky Beetles

Khryss | Published 2017-09-09 06:41

Pests pestered by other pests. A very quick karma?

Jet ants (Lasius fuliginosus)--popularly known as shining black ants--is one notorious species living in Europe and Asia. These hardworking little creatures may seem like those "usual" ones that scurry over your food but these have their own little secret: they build their empires inside of other ants' and colonize it 'til the nest becomes their own.

Well, these traitors may just have a taste of their own medicine as they also get victimized by pests of their own.

Workers of this species usually mark their trails when searching for food by secreting liquid that contains a special blend of pheromones. Many foraging ants would then follow this trail as they carry honeydew (of aphids and other insects) that they store in their special stomachs called "crops".

“Ants feed each other honeydew collected in their crops by essentially vomiting into each other’s mouths,” says author Bert Hölldobler at Arizona State University in Tempe.

And then comes the sap beetles (Amphotis marginata)--their own sneaky pests.

These insects stay on the foraging paths and get the ants' food by fooling them into regurgitating it...in their mouth. “The beetles have capitalised on this behaviour. We call them ‘highwaymen’ because they rob the traffic on the ants’ foraging trails.”

All they have to do is tap the ant using its fronts legs and antennae. When the ant responds by licking the beetle's head, it then encourages the ant to regurgitate their food by pressing its mouthparts to the victims'.

“It’s sort of like a secret handshake, followed by the beetle sticking its finger down the ant’s throat,” says Kwapich.

And guess what? Beetles actually get most of the ants' food this way!

When researchers tracked the amount of food both creatures get, they found that beetles got 1.8 times as much as ants did from their own forager. The beetles didn't even bother to transfer such to any ants or other beetles.

They also found that those beetles secrete liquid from the glands on top of their heads which may have attracted the ant. And when these foolish ants realize they're actually with a beetle intruder, they attack it. But the beetle has a plan B: it flattens itself on the ground by using its appendages to suction itself and disable the ants from flipping them.

Guess the lesson here, folks, is that what goes around truly comes back around.

https://www.newscientist.com/article/2146057-highwaymen-beetles-rob-ants-of-the-food-in-their-stomachs/

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