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My, what big jaws you have

March 29, 2016

DSCN8921Bull Ants (Myrmecia sp.) are a genus of large Australian ants well known for aggressively defending their territory. Despite this behaviour the adult ants surprisingly feed on nectar. The larvae are carnivorous and are fed insects, etc. by the worker ants in the nest. In normal circumstances I steer clear of these insects and their painful stings.

Recently my morning bike ride was interrupted by a moving cloud on the road which as I approach resolved itself to be a swarm of winged, mating Bull Ants. During their nuptial flight the male and female ants pay no attentions to intruders in their space and are simply focused on mating. The queens climb grass stalks and branches and emit a secretion which attracts the male ants – lots of them. Some queens were buried beneath a number of males all trying to mate.

DSCN8868aThe queen ant (above) is much larger than the male drone. It is maroon in colour (the male is black) and has larger mandibles. During the mating process the drone has to fight off the other drones while trying to mate with the queen. If it is distracted from the latter task and loosens its grip on the queen, the queen will simply turn around, grasp the drone in its mandibles and toss it aside whereby another drone takes its place.

Riding back an hour later and the same spot was a picture of serenity – not a Bull Ant to be seen. To see this spectacle it’s a case of being in the right place at the right time.

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