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Fire ants attack Atta mexicana foragers

- by A. Sunjian

On a trip to Puerto Vallarta last November 2003, I came upon the scene of a massacre. Foragers from a large Atta colony had stumbled upon a nest of stinging fire ants, and about 10-20 dead and dying leafcutters littered the ground. Disoriented foragers, panicked by the smells of alarm generated by their dying nestmates, were also set upon by other ants from nearby nests.

Solenopsis were swarming around their nest holes, which were partially covered by leaves and twigs. There were at least 10-20 dead and dying leafcutters around the immediate area, and foraging workers were also being attacked by both the Solenopsis and opportunistic ants in a nearby nest. An analysis of four samples of these dead and dying leafcutters revealed that all of the approx. 5 mm A. mexicana workers had at least 2 dead Solenopsis attached to their appendages, and that most of the smaller fire ants ants had missing gasters. Surprisingly, the smallest leafcutter (at 3-4 mm) managed to kill the most Solenopsis. This notable individual had at least three (and maybe four) dead fire ants in its jaws or clinging to its legs and antennae.

- Notes, 2003-11-30

In this image, 3-4 fire ants swarm over an unlucky forager. In turn, the leafcutter squashes a smaller fire ant between its massive jaws. Click on the image to the left to view a detailed picture.
The same ant clambers over fallen petals in a vain attempt to dislodge the biting and stinging fire ants. Click on the image to the left to view a detailed picture.
Three or four dead leafcutters litter the ground. Deade and dying fire ants are still attached to their bodies. Click on the image to the left to view a detailed picture.
Disoriented by the fighting, some foragers blundered into the small nest mounds of a nearby black ant (Dorymyrmex?), where they were pulled and harrassed by the smaller ants. Click on the image to the left to view a detailed picture.
This 14 MB QuickTime movie shows some scenes from the massacre of Atta mexicana foragers by fire ants. It is fairly long, and I had to slow the frame rate to 7 per second to keep the size low. You have to have Apple's QuickTime to view the movie.

I would suggest saving it to your local hard drive first before viewing (to save my server and your time). For windows machines using Mozilla browser, right click on the image to the left and select SAVE LINK TARGET AS.

The large major/soldier at the end that makes its way so painfully across the screen actually has been disabled by leafcutters (two dead ones are hanging on its body). I have no idea why. Perhaps it had successfully battled some Solenopsis and its odor had changed by the time it limped back to the foraging hole.

There are three segments on the movie...the first segment shows a forager on its back...you can just see a lone fire ant dead and clinging to a leg. The second segment shows fire ants moving around a dead forager whose jaws sem to be still clamped on a leaf section. The third segment shows a large major/soldier as it painfully limps across the screen, with two leafcutters hangning onto its thorax and leg.

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Web Site Author: A. Sunjian
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