An Army is Protecting our Forests


Photo by Matt Newby

Ants are social insects with highly organized communication and coordination skills destined to attack and defend. Out of the 10,000 species of ants in the world, most of them inhabit the tropical forests, creating colonies of thousands of individuals, both on the ground or in the trees.

Azteca ants live in the hollow stems of the Cecropia trees, known as guarumo in Costa Rica. It has been observed that the presence of these ants reduces the number of insects feeding from the plant, in addition to cutting away the creepers, vines, and lianas trying to attach onto their Cecropia tree, which improves the growth rate of this plant.

The Cecropia/guarumo provides hosting and free food to these ants. In exchange, they bite ferociously on anyone trying to injure their host tree while spraying it with formic acid, a very stingy substance. Only the anteaters (tamandua) can deal with these little insects, which are considered as delicacy.

The shrub known as Bullhorn Acacia is home to the ants in the Pseudomyrmex species. These tiny insects live inside the hollowed thorns growing from the base of each leaf, which produce sugar, protein, and oil, these are nutrients needed to keep this protective little army healthy and happy. At the slightest movement from a perceived enemy approaching the leaves, they instinctively jump to bite without mercy. They allow some birds, such as the yellow-throated vireo, to nest in the tree branches because they do not eat the plant.The bite of an acacia ant is very painful, and the swelling may last up to a week. So, be aware of what you are touching in the woods!

Posted in Environment & Wildlife.