Army Ant Camp Followers

Every army has its followers – civilians who follow in the wake of armies or service their needs whilst encamped. But army ants also have their followers. These species don’t sell the ants goods or entertain them when camped, but instead benefit from the ants’ hunting tactics.

Army ants in both Africa and South and Central America are well known for their lack of permanent nest and their aggressive raiding parties. In fact they’re pretty well known for killing other species. (Just search ‘army ant’ on youtube for some amazing vids!)

But now the combined research of many notable scientists, not least Carl Rettenmeyer and his wife Marian who dedicated their lives to the study of army ants, has shown that far from a destructive force, army ants are beneficial to a huge number of species: these camp followers, or associates.

Associated species include everything from other insects like the parasitoid wasps that watch for spiders spooked by the ants in which they lay their eggs, to birds and snakes that eat the small animals scattered in the wake of the ants. Then there are other invertebrates who feed on the droppings left by the birds.

In fact 577 separate species have been recorded in associated with one of the American army ant species (Eciton burchellii). This is the largest number of associated species that has ever been recorded!

Find out more:
C. W. Rettenmeyer, M. E. Rettenmeyer, J. Joseph and S. M. Berghoff. (2010) The largest animal association centered on one species: the army ant Eciton burchellii and its more than 300 associates. Insectes Sociaux.
BBC article.


About emmalouisewright

I am the bee girl. A PhD student at Rothamsted Agricultural Research Institute currently studying bees. Officially I'm looking at 'The effect of pathogens on honeybee learning and foraging behaviour', which in simple terms means that what I want to know is: 'are sick bees stupid'. You may have seen on the news or Dr Who recently that honeybees are having a bad time of it lately and we're not entirely sure why. One potential problem for them is diseases and parasites which don't just kill the bees but could also be effecting their behaviour. Which is what I'm interested. And yes before you ask I have been stung, but usually only when I'm really annoying the poor bees! Serves me right!
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2 Responses to Army Ant Camp Followers

  1. Becky says:

    Conservation priorities are always a conflict between the cute and cuddly, and species who have a broad impact on the ecosystem. Maybe these amazing creatures are cool enough to be popular with everyone, yet have wide-ranging benefits for ecosystems. Let’s save them!

  2. I just love the fact that they were thought to be bad for the ecosystem, just trundling in and killing everything in sight. But then you take a closer look and find that they bring a whole ecosystem of followers along with them! It’s a good reminder not to judge a book by it’s cover!

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