August 9, 2010

Rainforest ants use velcro

Scientists in Guiana, South America, recently announced the discovery of an ant species using the “Velcro effect” to stick on its host tree.

These ants (Azteca) live in symbiotic relationship with the Cecropia tree, national emblem for Guiana.  Here they can be found clinging to leaves where they can capture larger prey due to the Velcro-like compatibility between the downy under surface of the leaves and the tiny hooked claws of the worker ants.  Standing sentry in lines below the leaves, these small ants wait patiently for any prey to arrive. The Velcro effect makes them able to work effectively in large numbers, feeding the colony and also protecting the tree.

Ants have long been admired for their social organisation and their sheer numbers. Some single trees in the Peruvian Amazon host more varieties of ant species than the entire UK. Now, however, it seems that there are few technologies ants have failed to evolve or adopt, be they mechanical or chemical based.

In 2005, a gliding ant species (Myrmicinae) was discovered in the Peru’s rainforest.  Ants appear to be the only non-winged insect known to be able to direct its fall from the heights of the canopy. The same rainforest is also home to the bullet ant (Paraponera – a genus of ponerine ant) which can not only grow up top two inches in length, but also chemically produces the most painful bite of any insect in the world. Here you’ll also find the soldier ant (Dorylus) whose oversized mandibles rarely open once locked and are used by some Amazon tribes as nature’s stitches for open cuts.



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