These images, taken from new book The Guests of Ants, reveal the behaviour of myrmecophiles, sophisticated organisms from beetles to flies that infiltrate ant colonies to take advantage of them
10 August 2022
ANTS are known for their remarkably sophisticated colonies, coordinating their behaviours to transform a pile of dirt into a complex structure in as little as a week – but there are other sophisticated organisms out there looking to infiltrate these carefully set up societies.
The invaders, collectively called myrmecophiles, are the topic of The Guests of Ants, a new book by biologist Bert Hölldobler and behavioural ecologist Christina Kwapich. The pair examine the species that disrupt colonies by taking advantage of them, whether by masquerading as ants or manipulating their behaviour.
These images are taken from the book. Above, a histerid beetle (Haeterius ferrugineus) is shown among a brood of Formica ant larvae, which it has been reported to prey on. The beetle has also been seen to solicit regurgitated food from the host ants, attracting their attention by waving its forelegs.
Other ant attackers include Apocephalus, a type of ant-decapitating fly, shown attacking a soldier Pheidole dentata ant, and the larva of the moth Ippa conspersa, seen assaulting a worker of a host ant (probably of the species Lasius nipponensis), below.
Attaphila fungicola, a cockroach that lives in the nests of the Texas leafcutter ant (Atta texana) and rides on winged queens when they leave the nest for mating, feeds on a colony’s cultured fungus in the image above. Below, a Microdon hoverfly larva sits in the nest of the Linepithema oblongum ant. The fly larvae are usually ignored and tolerated by the ants, even as they prey on the ants’ brood of larvae.