Army ant raid of my dreams

I suppose most people have anxiety dreams, in which things are going horribly wrong because, in their dreams, they are late, lost, without something vital, or otherwise unable to figure out what’s going on. Being an entomological geek, and obsessed with field work, my anxiety dreams are often centered around being in a great tropical place, surrounded by social insects like ants and bees, but not having collecting equipment, having to leave, rain starting, and so on. I wake up frustrated, hoping that next time I’m in the tropics none of these things happened to me.

A couple of days ago, we pulled off the road in an area known to the locals as “Bambu de Suerre” and walked on a short rocky path into the forest. We were collecting for a while at a nest of Pheidole ants, when I decided to walk further up the trail. I started to hear the sound of the distinctive ant birds that follow army ant raids, and sure enough came across a massive raid of Labidus praedator.

[wpvideo Q6qGyMey]

Associated with these ants was a huge assortment of flies, in incredible numbers. Clouds of tachinids and conopids (Stylogaster) were buzzing around the undergrowth, while closer inspection showed that there were equivalent masses of phorid flies a few millimeters above the ground, attacking the ants. We were collecting 5 or 6 flies per aspirator attempt without even looking, just waving her aspirator is blindly around the ants and sucking in air. We collected hundreds of flies, truly an amazing event, and one I have rarely been lucky enough to stumble upon.

a small part of our fly catch

The flies included several species of Apocephalus ant decapitating flies, with the most common being A. praedator. As well, we collected some highly host-specific phorid genera like Cremersia that are associated strictly with non-Eciton army ants. One of the amazing things about Cremersia is that their ovipositors are complicated and asymmetrical. We don’t know how they use them, but they are so unusual that the females were originally described as males!

female Cremersia

Today is our last field day for this trip. There is still time for another dream to come true.

5 comments to Army ant raid of my dreams

  1. Jeff Bjorck says:

    Fantastic!

    Say, did you happen to observe any of the Pacifist Ants running in the other direction that I saw on my last trip there? It would be interesting to see if the flies attack these ants as well or ignore them out of respect for their nonviolent beliefs! :o) But seriously, may you have another Dream Come True day today!

  2. Soraya says:

    Que fotos tan lindas, que buen sueño hecho realidad.

  3. Chris Raper says:

    Hi Brian – sounds fascinating – which tachinids did you find? I hope you caught plenty 😀

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