Not all ants eat the same things. Some hunt, some scavenge, others grow their own food, and some steal from other ants.
Today I’m going to write about the stealing kind. Enter Solenopsis fugax, appropriately named the thief ant.
These ants are extremely small, and have a habit of making their nest in the walls of other ant species. Their favourite food being the brood of those species is bad news for the hosts. Scouts of the little thief ants make an elaborate tunnel system leading to the hosts’ brood chamber. Once these tunnels are finished, the scouts will recruit many of their nestmates in order to invade the brood chamber. Here they will steal a lot of the brood and drag it through the tunnels back to their own nest. These tunnels are too small for the victims to go through, giving the thief ants an easy time.
Why don’t the victims just attack the thieves while they’re busy stealing then? Well, the thieves won’t let them! Immediately when they invade a brood chamber, they secrete a pheromone, which is extremely repellant to other species. Basically they make the brood chamber smell so terrible, that the victims don’t dare to enter!
So basically they’re robbing a shop in broad daylight, and getting away with it every time!
Blum MS, Jones TH (1980) Alkaloidal venom mace: Offensive use by a thief ant. Naturwissenschaften 67(3) 144-145