Absurd Creature of the Week:
World’s Most Badass Ant Skydives, Uses Own Head as a Shield
By Matt Simon
With a range stretching from Argentina all the way up into the southern U.S., this incredible genus of ants has also mastered the art of rainforest skydiving, leaping from the canopy to avoid predators, only to steer themselves mid-flight right back onto the trunk of their home tree. And they do it with remarkable agility.
But first: that strange head. The various species of Cephalotes have a range of head shapes. Some are almost perfectly circular, like a manhole cover. These ants typically establish their colonies in dead branches of living trees, where wood-boring beetles have conveniently left cavities. “The size of the soldier head is perfectly matched to the size of the beetles that came out of the tree,” said tropical ecologist Stephen Yanoviak of the University of Louisville. The Cephalotes move in, and at any given time a soldier’s head serves as a door to keep the ants’ many enemies at bay.
In other species, the soldiers have to team up. Cephalotes atratus, below, occupy the hollow branches of living trees, where a longer slit in the wood acts as an entrance to their colony. “What they’ll do is the soldiers and the workers will line up basically cheek to cheek with that fairly flattened head,” said Yanoviak. “And they can collectively block the entrance that way.”..
(read more and watch em go: Wired Science)
photos: Stephen P. Yanoviak