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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