Credit: Teppei Jono

Unholy snake-ant alliance keeps ants safe from predators

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A Madagascan ant species can tell whether marauding snakes are friend or foe. When ant-eating blind snakes approach an ant nest, the worker ants run back to evacuate their young, leaving a few behind to mount a biting attack on the intruder. But they also have a second line of defence. The ants allow one of the few known predators of the blindsnake - a snake-eating snake - into their nest, in what the authors say is a symbiotic relationship where the ants get protection and the snake gets a cosy place to hide. Instead of biting the snake-eating snake when it approaches, the ants touch them with their antenna - a well-known form of communication between ants.

Journal/conference: Royal Society Open Science

DOI: 10.1098/rsos.190283

Organisation/s: University of the Ryukyus, Japan

From: The Royal Society

A Madagascan ant, Aphaenogaster swammerdami, exhibited two highly specialized responses to sympatric snakes: acceptance of a vertebrate-eating snake Madagascarophis colubrinus entering into the nest and cooperative evacuation of their brood from the nest against an ant-eating blindsnake, Madatyphlops decorsei. Given that the vertebrate-eating snake is one of the few known predators of the blindsnake, the Madagascan ant may protect its colony against predatory blindsnakes by two antipredator tactics, symbiosis with the vertebrate-eating snake and evacuation in response to intrusion by blindsnakes.

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  • Image 1
    Image 1

    Madagascan ant Aphaenogaster swammerdami have no issues with Madagascarophis colubrinus snakes entering their nest.

    File size: 7.0 MB

    Attribution: Teppei Jono

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    Last modified: 14 Aug 2019 9:22am

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  • Image 2
    Image 2

    When a large blindsnake - Madatyphlops decorsei - approaches a nest of the Madagascan ant Aphaenogaster swammerdami, the worker ants rush into the nest to evacuate the pupae and larvae, before mounting a biting attack on the blindsnake.

    File size: 1.6 MB

    Attribution: Teppei Jono

    Permission category: © - Only use with this story

    Last modified: 14 Aug 2019 9:22am

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  • Video 1

    When ant-eating blindsnake Madatyphlops decorsei approach the nest of Aphaenogaster swammerdami, the worker ants rush home to evacuate the pupae and larvae, and eventually attack the blindsnake.

    File Size: 4.7 MB

    Attribution: Teppei Jono

    Permission Category: © - Only use with this story

    Last Modified: 14 Aug 2019 9:22am

    Note: High resolution video files are only available for download here by registered journalists who are logged in.

  • Video 2

    Aphaenogaster swammerdami ants show virtually no aggressive response towards Madagascarophis colubrinus snakes entering their nest. After the ants touched the snake with their antennae, they return to normal activity without attacking it.

    File Size: 21.2 MB

    Attribution: Teppei Jono

    Permission Category: © - Only use with this story

    Last Modified: 14 Aug 2019 9:23am

    Note: High resolution video files are only available for download here by registered journalists who are logged in.

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