A beetle gets the wild horse treatment from a nocturnal hunting party of red weaver ants (aka kerengga) at St. John's Island. Even after twilight, the workers are in hot pursuit of prey, fanning out from their arboreal nests to scour the perimeter for meals-on-legs. I noticed that trees bearing the ants were lacking in other arthropod life. So effective are their troops that for some farms, they hinder fruiting, while for others, they serve as 24-hour pest control agents that confer organic status and savings on pesticides.
"In the weaver ants we uncovered some of the most complex social behaviour known in the animal kingdom," writes E.O. Wilson in Journey to the Ants: A Scientific Exploration (co-authored with Bert Hölldobler, The Bellknap Press, 1994). Workers exercise incredible coordination to construct their shelters, forming living bridges and ropes out of their own bodies to pull leaf edges together.
The mortar that secures the nest structure comes from the young (larval insects being the only stage capable of producing silk), which the adults employ as glue squirters, positioning the grubs and prompting them to exude sticky threads that adhere the green blades in place. The trade-off, as Wilson points out, is that they no longer have enough silk to weave their own pupal cocoons and must rely on the safety of the colony while they metamorphorsize. And surely, there are few creatures in the animal kingdom whose bite is far worse than their iddy-biddy proportions. A single bite is a sharp sting. An army of two thousand is a parade of pain that few can withstand for more than a few seconds. Wilson reveals a little more about these ferocious fighters:
"Oecophylla smaragdina maintains barracks nests near the borders, in which the aging workers stand guard. These individuals, no longer as capable as younger workers in the care of young, nest repair, and other domestic tasks, position themselves to be the first to meet enemies that breach the colony's territorial boundary. Near the end of their useful lives, they assume the greatest risks on behalf of the colony. It can be said that while human societies send their young men to war, weaver-ant societies send their old ladies."