Cocktail ant nest in a fynbos shrub

    Cocktail ant nest in a fynbos shrub
    Author: Ivan Latti
    Photographer: Ivan Latti

    The nest of the cocktail ant here built in a fynbos shrub near Gansbaai is often well above 1 m from the ground. It is constructed of ant-chewed bark turned into a cardboard-like building material suitable for constructing durable ant tenements. One nest may comprise thousands of cells or tiny chambers and linking passages. The nest serves as a safe home for eggs and larvae.

    Outer covering walls are temporary. Ongoing extensions are added for accommodating numbers growth, resulting in continual building alterations.

    Some termites (social insects of the Isoptera order, different from the Hymenoptera that includes ants, bees and wasps), also build nests using chewed plant tissue transformed into such a cardboard-like substance.

    Cocktail ants belong to the ecologically diverse Crematogaster genus occurring worldwide. There are more than 500 Crematogaster species, many of which live in trees and shrubs, sometimes part-time as they may also live in dead wood, under rocks and many dark, moist places; or they may settle indoors, even in your house!

    Living in a shrub or tree, they will serve their host plant by defending it against herbivores or other attackers. In return, the plant may secrete food for the ants, the mutualism of their ecological contract one of countless evolved interspecies arrangements that make nature miraculous.

    Cocktail ants obtain their food largely through predation upon other insects, like wasps and by herding aphids. They use venom to stun their prey and apply complex trail-laying practices for leading their mates to food sources.

    Typical of the social insects, nuptial flights form part of their reproduction, the queen storing sperm when starting a new nest (Holm, 2008; Wikipedia;

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