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.