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Matabele Ant: Termites’ Worst Nightmare

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By the title, you can probably already tell what the Matabele ant does, they attack termites for a living. This is something unordinary because it is not what ants usually do, not for the Matabele ants though. The unusual habit earned these ants the name after the Matabele tribe, the fierce warriors that overwhelmed many tribes during the 1800s. Time to read some information about the Matabele ants, shall we?

1Appearance

Matabele ants are one of the largest ants in the world, reaching a size of 2 centimeters or even bigger. Despite the large size, these ants are still agile and fast. The solider ants of this species are gifted with formidable pincers that they use to easily puncture flesh. You know what, those pincers allow them to effortlessly dismember their prey such as grasshoppers and moths. On top of that, they also have stings that they use to dissuade intruders or predators. These two are great defensive weapons, something that none of us wants to experience.

2Behavior

African diver ants or Matabele ants live in colonies that can consist of up to 20 million members. Usually, they are on the march in search of food so it is common to see their parades across the road. When the colony is on the march, there are 200 to 600 members that move as one entity in a single column. The larger soldier ants are on the edge of the column to provide protection for the smaller worker ants. During the march, there are also small search parties that will break off to search for food and prey. Once they locate the target, they will release their pheromone to attract the rest of the column. Matabele ants also create a hissing or rattling noise as they move but they often do this when threatened.

Should members in the groups get wounded, the members will carry their comrades back to the colony to nurse them back to health. There are nurse ants that treat injured soldiers ants by licking the wounds for several minutes to prevent fatal infection. Mortally wounded ants will kick and struggle, refusing to cooperate with any ants who attempt to care for them. For those whose wounds are curable, they will allow the treatment until they get better. The studies showed that this form of treatment is remarkably effective, reducing the mortality rate of the ants after the raids.

Termites are not the only beings that fear these ferocious ants because humans are also afraid of them. With 10 or more bites from Matabele ants can paralyze a human arm, they are not something to mess with. There have been documented cases of kids being bitten by these ants who later died of asphyxiation.

3Feeding & Habitats

One of their most favorite food is termites, and their ways of hunting them is brutal. During the raid, they will gather large numbers of members to ambush the termite nests. Matabele ant colony will attack the termite colony by neutralizing the soldiers with their stings and then killing the workers. They pile up the paralyzed termites and carry them back after the raid is done. The ants then steal the eggs and nymphs within the termite colony and take them back as food. One large ant can carry up to 12 termites at a time, quite impressive hey?

Thanks to them, they help control termite numbers within their range effectively. The cool part is that they do not hunt a termite colony to extinction. These ants will sustainably hunt the termites so that they can return again and again. This is why they have other food sources to feed on. At the same time, they also keep pests like crop pests, rats, and other insects under control.

Matabele ant species are native to Sub-Saharan Africa where they build their nest up to 0.7 meters deep underground. Their nests are often next to abandoned termite hills, rocks, or trees. The nests may have more than one entrance but it only has one chamber where the eggs, larvae, cocoons, and the queen are located.

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