Army ants will not eat you

Alex Wild, biologist and photographer, recently made this short video of army ants marching through the wilds of Ecuador. These creatures travel in packs—hundreds of thousands of ants strong—and they are not vegetarians. That said, they're also not out there, stripping cows to bone in 20 seconds flat. Tales of South American army ants devouring large vertebrates are myths. Instead, they eat insects, worms, arthropods and eggs. They do kill small vertebrates—think, toads—that get in their way. But they lack the right sort of jaws to actually eat those animals. At least, that's true for the New World version of the army ant. Same can't be said about its African cousins.

Of course, just because something can't kill and eat you doesn't mean it's entirely benign, as Alex Wild well knows:

Recording these clips entailed several hundred stings, so I've removed the original soundtrack of me cursing heavily and have replaced it with soothing ambient sounds of the Ecuadorian forest.

(Via Kate Clancy)


    1. The ants pay me far better than the Climate Change Conspiracy does. I’ll tell you that much.

  1. African Army Ants are among the most terrifying things I have ever experienced. At our remote camp in Tanzania, the hours after a rain stormed turned to “siafu (army ant) watch,” as we built our fire higher in order to get ash with which we could shovel to block the giant marauding columns of ants that would inevitably start marching in. Frankly, though, shoveling a red hot heap of ash right onto the front of an army ant column did little to deter them from marching on, pushing their dead to the side as they made a passage through the ash.

    Also frightening: you frequently could not feel them as they made their way up your trouser leg, marching up and up until they reached their target: soft, sensitive skin. And when you pulled them off, their pincers would hold on so tight their heads would often rip off before they let go.

    I just gave myself the hibbly-jibblies remembering them.

    On the plus side, though, I just ate a giant ant yesterday evening, for the first time. On the minus side, though, it was a South American ant (though still huge). And it was disgusting.

    1. Parts of the wikipedia entry on the African Army Ants gave me the freakin’ “hibby jibbiles”:

      When a colony of driver ants encounters a male, they tear its wings off and carry it back to the nest to be mated with a virgin queen. As with all ants, the males die shortly afterward.

      1. to be mated with a virgin queen

        Some Wikipedian has been reading too much Edgar Rice Burroughs, if that’s possible.

    2. Beryl Markham, in West With The Night, tells a story about finding one of their horses half eaten by siafu ants.

  2. The only thing better would be if he filmed this all using tilt-shift perspective so that they all seemed really tiny…um…waitaminute…

  3. tom waits says “and the army ants they leave nothin’ but the bones” and i trust tom waits above any scientist.

  4. So, wait, you’re saying that African army ants WILL eat you? So shouldn’t the title of this post be “Not All Army Ants Will Eat You”? As it stands, the title that you have now — “Army Ants [Categorically] Will Not Eat You” is a potentially dangerous lie!

  5. My wife and I once went to check in to a hostel at a Guatemalan rainforest just as a horde of army ants was making its way through the registration area. The freaked-out response of the clerk was enough to convince us that we would be better off coming back after the ants had finished making their way through. That, and a glimpse of how quickly they dismembered a cockroach that was unlucky enough to get in their way.

  6. Brilliant footage of this scourge in the wonderful “Hellstrom Chronicle”, best documentary from 1971:

    Maybe they couldn’t eat the chameleon they smother with their bodies, but I doubt he would be much comforted by that.

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