Archive for May, 2012

The inter-tidal ant, Polyrhachis sokolova swims using its first pair of legs similar to the way we use our arms. Pallarenda, Townsville, QLD

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The mudflat habitats of these ants in Townsville, Queensland, are possibly one of the only places on Earth where one finds ants, mudskippers and fiddler crabs foraging in the same location.

Workers of the inter-tidal ant Polyrhachis sokolova feed on a dead crab, Townsville, QLD

A male fiddler crab in the mudflats. Townsville, QLD

A mudskipper during high tides in the mudflats, Townsville, QLD

These ants of course love sea food, and dead crabs are much appreciated by them. However we found that in addition to the dead crabs they really dig the maggots found within the crabs.  On more than one occasion, individual workers dragged live maggots out of the dead crabs and took them home. This was the only occasion where ants carried live prey back home (I presume maggots can only be food for these ants).

A worker of the inter-tidal ant, Polyrhachis sokolva captures a live maggot found within a dead fiddler crab. Townsville, QLD

Workers of the inter-tidal ant, Polyrhachis sokolva capture a live maggot they found within a dead fiddler crab. Townsville, QLD

The mudskippers, though cute, were an annoyance a times. We had trained ants to a food source, which were delicious clams. Often the mudskippers were bold enough to skip and take over the clam, much to the ants (and our) surprise and dismay. The perplexed ants would be then left searching for their lost food source, whose location they were most certain until their neighbour came over.

Ant gallery gets an update with the inter-tidal ant, Polyrhachis sokolova. Go check it out.

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Still in Townsville. Fieldwork has been great so far. Few more days and I should have a pretty decent dataset to explain the navigational feats of the intertidal ant, Polyrhachis sokolova.

Worker of Polyrhachis sokolova draws its legs between its mandibles to clean it following a sticky meal, Pallarenda, Townsville, Queensland

A bit about P. sokolova first. They are probably one of the only intertidal ants in the world, that makes nests at the base of trees in the mangroves. They forage and find food individually – have found no evidence of trail following so far. Their nests and foraging sites get inundated during high tides. To get to their nest, they hence swim, using the first pair of legs as we use our arms. Very cool indeed. But they mostly forage on ground and swim only when there is no option. And they are amazingly fast swimmers, covering the same distance on water at least twice as fast as they would have on land. This could also be due to the lack of traction on water because of which they get blown by even a gentle breeze.

Workers of Polyrhachis sokolova feed on the clam during an experiment. Pallarenda, Townsville, Queensland

Workers of Polyrhachis sokolova feed on the clam, Plebidonax deltoids, during an experiment. Pallarenda, Townsville, Queensland

Learnt a lot of interesting things about these ants, the foremost being their diet. Setting up a feeder to train these animals has been great fun. They do not take the typical cookie crumbs which the desert ants love. So we tried a whole bunch of things including, sugar solution, maple syrup, mealworms. None worked. We found they love the maggots present in dead and rotting crabs, but found it hard to get lots of maggots. What finally worked was food from the local seafood store called ‘pipis’. Pipis, Plebidonax deltoides, are edible clams, which the ants adore. They either drink from them or pull bits and pieces of the soft tissue and take it home.

This is a superb field site to watch these ants – all I need to do is to get rid of the ^&#%$^ sandflies!

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