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Friday, May 13, 2011

Army Ants



One sign of quality habitat in a natural tropical forest is the presence of army ants. They attack small animals, especially invertebrates, and devour them in mass. They are active during the day, and tend to choose a different roost site each night. We have been invaded by army ants recently in Estacion Biologica, which provide for us a kind of Spring cleaning. Columns of marauding ants march into rooms and swarm through crevices, under and behind furniture, in search of prey. Within hours, they are gone. See video here.
army ants Eciton burchelli
This army ant column passes a ripe capulin (Muringia calabura), in search of more substantial food. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.

Eciton wildlife photography
Larger workers like the individual in the center of this picture are often called soldier ants, although their activities may overlap considerably with the smaller workers. Photo Jeffrey McCrary. 

Eciton Muringia calabura
A column of army ants moves past a capulin fruit. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.

ecotour Nicaragua
Columns in movement may divide and re-merge, as the ants seek prey. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.

army ants nature tours Nicaragua
This group of army ants occupied many associated columns and number well into the thousands. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.

Eciton, wildlife
Although the most well-known species of army ants in Central America is Eciton burchelli, the species found in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve, Nicaragua, is not known. Pesticide use in habitations inside the reserve threatens their continued existence. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.

army ants antbirds
Army ants live in symbiosis with a number of other animals that feed on the animals which escape the reach of the army ants, thus exposing themselves to other predators. Most notable among them are the so-called antbirds, which actually feed on other small animals, not on the army ants. Some antbirds maintain a strict association with army ant swarms. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.

Eciton, wildlife photography
We know almost nothing of army ants in the Pacific region of Nicaragua. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.
"Progress" is arriving in Nicaragua, and with it, the forests of the Pacific region are under grave threats. How much longer will we be able to enjoy the marvel of army ants in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve? Every day more pressures can be found against nature here. For now, the army ants are one more sign that the forest in the Apoyo crater is still quite "natural". But until when?
army ants nature tourism
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