Walking down the driveway one morning I found this neatly constructed nest of leaves about the size of a person’s head. It was swarming with red ants and I was curious to know if it was an ant nest of if the ants were raiding the nest of some other creature.
A Google search revealed all!
These were Weaver ants.
They live in tropical forests of Africa and India and are famous for their elaborately constructed nests of leaves.
A number of worker ants will, working collectively, pull leaves together. Other worker ants then bring in ant larvae from older nests and, squeezing them gently between their jaws induce the release sticky strands of silk that in turn is used to bind leaves together!
By feeding on other insects these ants have a symbiotic relationship with the tree in which the nests are built. In many parts of the world farmers encourage the ants to build their nests in their orchards as a means of pest control.
Weaver ants are known to have a ‘sweet tooth’, a fact that certain butterfly species take advantage of. Their caterpillars secrete a sweet honeydew that is irresistible to the ants. In exchange the ants ‘adopt’ and protect the caterpillars.
I did come across a few references that gave a more sinister twist to the above relationship. They suggested that the caterpillars use their sweet secretion as a ruse to gain entry into the nest. Once there they proceed to gobble up the ant larvae!