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Predation by ants on arthropods and other animals

AuthorsCerdá, Xim ; Dejean, A.
Issue Date2011
PublisherNational Academy of Sciences (U.S.)
CitationPredation in the Hymenoptera: An Evolutionary Perspective, 2011: 39-78
AbstractAnts are the most widely distributed and most numerically abundant group of social insects. First, they were ground- or litter-dwelling predators or scavengers, and certain taxa evolved to adopt an arboreal way of life. Most ant species are generalist feeders, and only some ground-nesting and ground- foraging species are strictly predators. Ants are central-place foragers (with the exception of army ants during the nomadic phase) that may use different foraging strategies. Solitary hunting is the most common method employed by predatory ants. Cooperative hunting, considered more evolved than solitary hunting, is used by army ants and other ants such as Myrmicaria opaciventris, Paratrechina longicornis or the dominant arboreal Oecophylla. Army ants are predators with different levels of specialization, some of which focus on a particular genus or species, as is the case for Nomamyrmex esenbeckii which organizes subterranean raids on the very large colonies of the leaf-cutting species Atta colombica or A. cephalotes. Arboreal ants have evolved predatory behaviors adapted to the tree foliage, where prey are unpredictable and able to escape by flying away, jumping or dropping. The weaver ant, Oecophylla longinoda, for example, hunts prey diurnally in groups. They detect prey visually from a relatively long distance and the workers adhere to the plant substrate by means of very powerful adhesive pads and claws. On some occasions, during prey retrieval, the prey can be stolen by other ants; food- robbing is more frequent in ground-dwelling than in arboreal species. Many predatory ants are engaged in a kind of arms race: they have evolved morpho-physiological adaptations to foil prey defense or escape mechanisms. Mandible shapes have changed and powerful venoms have been developed by different species. Depending on their prey specialization ants can have many different mandible shapes: trap-jaw mandibles, nutcracker mandibles adapted to hunting long prey, pitch-fork mandibles, falciform mandibles and long mandibles. Other ant species are specialized in hunting a certain prey type, but do not have a mandible shape particular to that specialization; these species are egg predators, collembolan predators, or social insect predators. Some ant species are either specialized or occasional termite predators. All of these ants play a role in the equilibrium of ground- and litter-dwelling detritivorous arthropods and the herbivorous insects living in these strata.
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