Oecophylla: weaver ants

So the vote from a recent post ended in a tie which really did not help me make the decision on which ants to write about. Someone commented saying they liked weaver ants so here they are. Your comments always influence the content on this site.

Weaver ants of the Genus Oecophylla are some of the most recognisable and distinctive ant species on the planet. This is down to their gorgeous appearance and amazing nests so please enjoy. Oecophylla is a genus of ants that are most commonly known as weaver ants or green/orange tree ants. The genus comprises of 15 species, 13 extinct and only 2 extant including several subspecies. The 2 surviving species are Oecophylla longinoda in Africa and Oecophylla smaragdina in Asia and Australasia. Recently the species Oecophylla kolhapurensis was described but is likely the same species or a subspecies of O.smaragdina. As there is still some debate and little information available I will be ignoring this potential species for now. I will revisit later as more information becomes available.

The distribution of Oecophylla longinoda (Orange) and Oecophylla smaragdina (Green).

Oecophylla longinoda is a beautiful orange-brown colour throughout its range while Oecophylla smaragdina is a similar orange colour in its Asian range and is a gorgeous mix of greens and oranges in its Australian range.

1- Oecophylla longinoda alate queen and workers, 2-Oecophylla longinoda worker, 3- Oecophylla smaragdina orange form and 4- Oecophylla smaragdina greenform (antwiki.org, wikipedia.org and entomologytoday.org)

These ants are called weaver ants as they use the silk secreted by their larvae to stick leaves together to form their nests. In order to do this, many workers from the colony will pull the leaves together by creating chains of their own bodies. Once the leaves are close enough together, other workers will carry the young larvae in their mandibles and use them as a sort of glue gun. This silk is strong enough to keep the leaves together and these nests can last until the leaves dry out and die. Once this happens, a new nest will be constructed.

A- An Oecophylla nest covered in workers, B- Workers pulling and holding the leaves together, C- A worker using a larvae to glue the leaves together with their silk (u/Antscannabis, Reddit).

Weaver ants in this genus exhibit Polydomy meaning a single colony can have many nests. As a result a single colony can dominate entire trees and can consist of half a million workers and several queens. They hare highly territorial as their tree will provide them with shelter and a lot of their food. So anything that enters their territory will be pestered, attacked or even eaten. The intruders will be bitten by powerful mandibles, be torn limb from limb and be sprayed with acid. This is a very painful experience for humans. Any smaller animals, especially arthropods are easily killed and consumed by the colony.

Weaver ants (Oecophylla spp.) - Paul Bertner
A termite soldier being pinned down and torn apart by weaver ant workers (Paul Bertner).

This is why many farmers throughout their range encourage the ants to inhabit their orchards. Yes this increased the risk of bites but the ants control pests extremely effectively. They are free of artificial chemicals and pesticides and, most relevant to farmers, they’re free. Many farmers actively harvest colonies to bring to their farms. There are even examples of these farmers using string to build the ants bridges from tree to tree. This increases the available territory for a colony and makes them even more effective at dealing with pests across a greater area of farmland.

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A woman in west Africa uses weaver ants to protect her mango trees (agroinsight.com).

Using these ants as natural pest control could greatly reduce the reliance and usage of pesticides in the areas they inhabit. This will benefit the environment as less wild insects will die as a result. It will also have a great socio-economic impact as pesticides can be a great expense for people living in relatively impoverished areas. Many peoples eat the larvae of these ants but I think I will save that story for another day. They are fascinating and beautiful while also greatly benefitting humans in many ways. It just goes to show that working with nature is far easier and better than working against it.

Happy Earth Day (A day late oops). If you are interested in learning more I about how to use these ants for good I would highly recommend reading this. Available in other languages here.

If you have enjoyed this site and its content please consider donating so I can add more content in the future.

References

Crewe, R.M. and Thompson, P.R., 1979. Oecophylla silk: Functional adaptation in a biopolymer. Naturwissenschaften66(1), pp.57-58.

Crozier, R.H., Newey, P.S., Schluens, E.A. and Robson, S.K., 2010. A masterpiece of evolution–Oecophylla weaver ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Myrmecological News13(5), pp.57-71.

Holldobler, B., 1983. Territorial behavior in the green tree ant (Oecophylla smaragdina). Biotropica, pp.241-250.

Hölldobler, B. and Wilson, E.O., 1990. The ants. Harvard University Press.

Van Mele, P., 2008. A historical review of research on the weaver ant Oecophylla in biological control. Agricultural and forest entomology10(1), pp.13-22.

http://www.agroinsight.com/blog/?p=1332

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