Species Spotlight: Thaumatomyrmex

Hi! My name is Thaumatomyrmex atrox. I’m a very pretty ant from South America.

Thaumatomyrmex atrox

Thaumatomyrmex atrox. Picture by Alex Wild.

People can’t help but wonder why I have these magnificent mandibles, so let me tell you! I live on a very specialized diet of polyxenid millipedes. The problem is…these millipedes have a lot of thick bristly hairs, which are horrible to the touch and they carry very aversive substances…but disregarding their hairs they taste delicious!

So a typical dinner looks like this for me. First, I try to find one of these millipedes. I immediately grab it with my special mandibles, so I have to touch as little of the hairs as possible. I sting the millipede and bring it back home when it’s paralyzed. Now I take it between my mandibles again, and start rubbing it up and down against my forelegs in order to strip all the hairs away. This hair is so repulsive that many times during this whole procedure I stop and clean myself, before continuing.

Finding (1), stinging (2) and cleaning (3) and eating (4) the millipede. Picture copyright of Insectes Sociaux.

Finding (1), stinging (2) and cleaning (3) and eating (4) the millipede. Picture copyright of Insectes Sociaux.

In about 20 minutes I’ll have stripped the entire animal, and it’s time for me and my sisters to eat!

Source:
Brandão CRF, Diniz JLM and Tomotake M. (1991) Thaumatomyrmex strips millipedes for prey: a novel predatory behaviour in ants, and the first case of sympatry in the genus (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Insectes Sociaux 38: 335-344.

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