Nature Dossier: The Weaver Ant (southern India)

Simplified geographical map of the Indostanic Peninsula

It is only when observing with curious eyes and a silent tongue that you will find nature at its best. The university town of Manipal is located six kilometres inland (see picture to the right; click to enlarge) in the state of Karnataka. A recent walk through Manipal’s public park End Point not only served as an excellent viewpoint for overlooking the lush evergreen and semi-green forest, but also offered an interesting peek into the animal kingdom. Perched high up in a tree, we sighted two nests of Weaver Ants and were quite amazed by their carpentry skills.

Due to its geography and climate, the peninsula of southern India known as the Indostanic Peninsula, harbours a wide diversity of both plants and animals. It is bordered by the Arabian Sea in the west, the Bay of Bengal in the east and by the mountain ranges Vindhya and Satpura in the north. Further south, the mountain range of the Western Ghats (UNESCO World Heritage Site) expands along the coastline and forms a geographical barrier creating a narrow coastal plain between its western slopes and the Arabian Sea. This strip of land is called the Malenadu/Canara region, where Manipal is situated.

Oecophylla smaragdina

Weaver Ants' nest in End Point, Manipal, measuring 30 centimetres in length.

Weaver Ants’ nest in End Point, Manipal, measuring 30 centimetres in length.

The Weaver Ant belongs to the ant genus Oecophylla, a subfamily of the Formicinae, of which only two species have survived to this day: Oecophylla longinoda found in Sub-Saharan Africa and Oecophylla smaragdina found in southern India, southeast Asia and Australia. The other fifteen species are extinct. They are best known for their remarkable cooperative behaviour for nest construction using leaves. By linking their legs, these ants can create very strong ant chains, thereby bending leaves into desired shapes and positions. Once the leaves’ edges have been drawn together, they use their own offspring as sewing machines: by moving the larvae back and forth along the edges, they start producing silk which is then used to bind the leaves. The nests are usually elliptical in shape and can measure up to half a meter in length.

Did you know?

1. The total weight of all ants in the world is the same as, if not larger than that of all humans.

2. The ant is one of the world’s strongest creatures relative to its size.

3. The Bullet Ant is one of the most venomous insects in the world.

4. Ants move an estimated fifty tons of soil per year in one square mile.

5. Ants and humans are the only creatures which farm other creatures.

Photographs by: Paula Mittermayer

Featured image by: Alexander Wild

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One response to “Nature Dossier: The Weaver Ant (southern India)

  1. Of weaver ants, birds and man

    I’m enjoying the warmth of my woven Merino wool poncho from Knysna, while I watch a group of birds (the Cape Weaver, Ploceus capensis, endemic to South Africa) preparing for breeding in their colony of hanging, retort-shaped (cf. chemistry lab) woven nests. The social weaver Philetairus socius (endemic to southern Africa) builds a massive, apartment-house community nest.

    Switching continents, the Baya Weaver Ploceus philippinus is found throughout India, and this bird breeds in hanging-nest colonies during the monsoon often near water bodies (e.g. lakes around Bangalor).

    Challenge to India: post an image reuniting “something ant, something bird, something man, everything woven”!

    A nature freak
    July 2012

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