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Small but Powerful: the life stories of three different Ant species (Leaf-cutter, Bullet ant, Army ant)


January 19, 2018

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Manu National Park and the Tambo Blanquillo Private Reserve are globally recognized for their wildlife: Macaws, Jaguars, Caimans, Monkeys, Capybaras.. these species are normally the stars of the show. However, what few people realize, is that most of the work done to maintain the ecosystem healthy is done by insects, and one of the most crucial classes of insects in the area around our Lodge, are ants. In this blog post we will examine three different species of Ants that can be found around the Lodge at the Tambo Blanquillo Private Reserve, and our two neighboring natural reserves, Manu National Park and the Amarakeri Communal Reserve.

Leaf-Cutter Ants:

Leaf-cutter Ants – Photo: Jess Findlay

Leaf-cutter Ants – Photo: Jess Findlay

When walking around the trails of Tambo Blanquillo Private Reserve, a private reserve located in the buffer zone of the Manu National Park, it is easy to spot rows of ants carrying leaves on their jaws. While they might seem minuscule in size compared to the colossal magnitude of the forest, Leaf-cutter ants are the herbivore that consumes the highest amount of biomass -an absolute value- in the forest, a whooping 15-17% of all the vegetation produced.

Something interesting about these ants is that they do not ‘consume’ the leaves they collect. They feed on a specific type of fungi, which they harvest from the leaves they leave to rot on specially designed cavities in their nests. This activity allows nutrients to go back to the forest floor, which in turn allows for such an astonishing amount of biodiversity as there is at Tambo Blanquillo.

Army Ant:

Army Ant – Photo: Wikipedia Creative Commons

Army Ant – Photo: Wikipedia Creative Commons

Army ants are another species that shape lots of the Amazonian landscape. These ants travel in gigantic numbers -sometimes in the millions of individuals- and eat everything that is in their way, from small insects, to lizards, snakes, tortoises, birds, and even injured mammals. Nothing escapes the hunger and power of this super-organism. They literally hunt everything that is in their way. Their numbers are so big, that they do not live in nests, they are just nomads through the forest.

If when walking along the trails of Tambo Blanquillo you encounter an colony of Army Ants, be careful not to step on them, as while they are not dangerous for a human being, their stings can be decently painful.  But don’t worry, we have the best guides in the business to make sure you don’t have to worry about any of this.

BBC Earth filmed a very interesting video showing the magnitude and raw power of this ants. We highly recommend you watch it.

As a side note, there is a group of birds called “Ant-birds” which have co-evolved with these ants. These birds follow the swarms of Army Ants and prey on the insects that try to escape them. The high density of Army Ants at Tambo Blanquillo make it one of the best places on earth to spot this reclusive group of birds.

Hairy-crested Antbird (Rhegmatorhina melanosticta) - Photo: Glenn Bartley

Hairy-crested Antbird (Rhegmatorhina melanosticta) – Photo: Glenn Bartley

Bullet Ants:

While the bullet ant might not be a forest engineer -they do not shape the ecosystem around them- like the Leaf-Cutter and Army Ants, it has won a special mention due to its powerful sting. The name bullet ant comes from the direct translation of “hormiga bala”, which is what the militaries fighting subversive groups in the Amazon would call them, as the pain generated by the sting is allegedly reminiscent of being shot.

These ants are quite big and meander in small numbers. We do not recommend you touch or play with any species you encounter in the forest, but this one deserves a special warning. The pain inflicted will most likely ruin your trip. However, there is no need to panic. They are extremely peaceful critters. As long as you don’t pick them up and play with them, they will not cause you any harm. And even if an accidental sting happens, at Tambo Blanquillo we have medicine to mitigate the pain and avoid allergic reactions.

Here is a “interesting” video of someone getting purposely stung by a bullet ant.

We hope you learnt that the wildlife in the forest is a lot more intricate, complicate, and interesting than what meets the eye. Please, feel free to contact us with any questions or inquiries.

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