Species Spotlight: Cephalotes

Meet Cephalotes, also known as the gliding ant.

Cephalotes atratus

Cephalotes atratus. Picture by Alex Wild

Notice the weird shape of the head? Well, it looks weird for a reason! These ants use their heads for gliding, just like flying squirrels use the skin between their legs for gliding.

Dr. Steve Yanoviak found out about this peculiar behaviour when he was climbing a tree in Panama. He got one of these ants on his hands, brushed it away, and saw that instead of falling straight down, it glided towards the tree again. He made some nice recordings of this behaviour. In the video you first see a non-gliding ant (the bullet ant, Paraponera clavata) falling down. Afterwards, you see the Cephalotes.

Why would ants have evolved to do this? Well, to avoid getting lost! Ants are known for following chemical trails. If they would fall down from a tree, they would end up on the bottom of a tropical forest, where they would almost certainly get lost. Every forager that gets lost is bad for a colony, so this way, they can glide back to their tree without getting lost!

If you would like to know more about gliding ants, Dr. Yanoviak has a website, where you can find more information, pictures and videos about these fascinating creatures.

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