Green Tree Ants

Skyrail Nature Diary: April 2008

Are you looking for a nutritious snack which is high in protein and vitamins and low in calories? Well look no further than the edible abdomen of the humble Green Tree Ant (Oecophylla smaragdina).

This traditional source of bush tucker can make a tasty (although tart) treat. Found throughout the World Heritage protected Tropical Rainforests of North Queensland – and not to mention many local gardens and trees – the Green Tree Ant’s abdomen is high in vitamin C and protein and tastes a bit like lime.

As well as being a good source of nutrition and flavour, the Green Tree Ant also provided a traditional remedy for coughs, colds and fevers.

For coughs and colds, you take one Green Tree Ant nest, immerse it in hot water, crush it, boil it and then drink it. For fevers, you place Green Tree Ants all over your chest and let them bite you; although it sounds unlikely, the multitude of bites relieve the symptoms of fever.

Green Tree Ants are prolific throughout the rainforest, with each colony capable of having up to 150 nests across several different sites, comprised of between 100,000 and 500,000 worker ants. Each colony has one Queen Ant: her eggs are distributed throughout the nests by the worker ants, which also forage for food and build nests.

For such a small ant (10mm long), their nests are impressive in size, structure and design.

To build the football-sized nests, the adult ants pull several leaves together and bind them into place with a white sticky substance, which is created by the Green Tree Ant larvae. Constructed in trees and shrubs, the nests are often difficult to see as they blend in with surrounding foliage.

However, if you happen to brush against a nest you will soon know it. These aggressive ants are very protective and if disturbed, they will drop down on their ‘attackers’ and bite them viciously. Green Tree Ants are also an excellent predator, using a group attack strategy to prey on insects much larger than themselves.

The above points combine to make the Green Tree Ant a valuable asset for modern fruit farmers, who utilise them as a ‘biological control agent’. When introduced to an orchard, the territorial Green Tree Ants reduce the number of damaging insects on the trees they inhabit.

The Green Tree Ant is the only weaver ant found in Australia; it is related to the Red Tree Ant of Thailand.